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  • Lynched: The Victims of Southern Mob Violence by Amy Kate Bailey and Stewart E. Tolnay
  • Mattias Smångs
Lynched: The Victims of Southern Mob Violence By Amy Kate Bailey and Stewart E. Tolnay University of North Carolina Press. 2015. 296 pages. $29.95 paper.

In 1995, Stewart Tolnay and E. M. Beck published the landmark study A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882–1930. Based on a painstaking data-collection effort, including manually sifting through contemporary newspapers in various archives to find articles with information about lynchings, Tolnay and Beck constructed an inventory of lynching events in ten southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee). Drawing upon theories of intergroup resource competition, Tolnay and Beck use these data to craft a powerful argument that lynching served as a means of racial control and repression, reducing competition from African Americans to white economic interests, particularly demonstrating that lynchings were more common where and when whites experienced worsened conditions within the southern cotton economy.

Published twenty years after A Festival of Violence, the volume by Amy Bailey and Stewart Tolnay under consideration here is as pathbreaking as its predecessor. While A Festival of Violence was, in part, concerned with producing reliable data on how many lynchings occurred, where they occurred, and when they occurred, Lynched focuses on whom lynchings happened to, that is, their victims. In this, Lynched is, like A Festival of Violence, based upon an immense data-collection effort, described in detail in chapter 2, made possible by the digitalization and availability of online data sources. In order to collect individual and family information on the victims of lynchings, Bailey and Stewart used the Beck–Tolnay lynching event inventory as their point of departure and tried to link all lynching victims therein (a total of 2,164 victims, excluding victims for whom they lacked names) to the information recorded on them in the original decennial US Census enumerators' manuscripts for the census immediately preceding their death. For lynchings that occurred, for example, in the 1880s, Bailey and Tolnay searched for the victims in the 1880 census manuscripts. Through this procedure, they have been able to collect information on 935 lynching victims pertaining to personal characteristics such as age, literacy, marital status, occupation, and birth state, as well as to the composition of the household they resided in at the time of the census. In doing so, Bailey and [End Page 1] Tolnay are able to go beyond what we know about the characteristics of lynching victims, that is, that they were predominantly black and male, to in unprecedented rich and illuminating detail further describe the characteristics of the African American men most commonly victimized by lynch mobs (chapter 3).

Lynched is, however, far from merely an exercise in the collection, analysis, and presentation of descriptive data. Bailey and Tolnay's entire research design is geared toward evaluating theoretical propositions put forward in the lynching literature regarding factors supposedly associated with increased vulnerability to lynch mobs (Bailey and Tolnay focus, for the most part, on African American male lynching victims, but in chapter 6, entitled "Atypical Victims," they present information about black female and white male lynching victims). In particular, Bailey and Tolnay evaluate, on the one hand, the hypothesis that lynching victims were "marginal men," that is, individuals with comparatively few social and economic ties to the community (chapter 4). On the other hand, they evaluate the hypothesis that victims of lynch mobs were socially or economically successful African American men (chapter 5).

Bailey and Tolnay's results offer partial support for both hypotheses. The first and foremost finding is that the victims of southern lynch mobs did not represent a cross-section of the African American male population in the South. Lynching victims differed in some important respects from those African American men who were not lynched with regard to social marginality as well as to social standing. Markers of social marginality such as being born in another state than in the state of residence, being a non-married head of household rather than a married head of household, being unrelated to the head of the...


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