Part Two: Historical Trauma of Lynching

The project set out to document the historical trauma experienced by African American women after slavery and Reconstruction. Violence is inherent in the process of enslavement and ruling over other human beings. Reconstruction was an era filled with opportunity and hope—often dashed--for African Americans, suddenly freed slaves and those who were living unyoked before 1865; those in the South and the North alike.

Federal troops were withdrawn from the South in 1877 and after a Supreme Court decision denied the federal government’s responsibility for controlling mob violence and white terrorism, lynching rose in frequency and ferocity throughout the South and occasionally in other states outside the region.

The Jane Crow Project began to investigate the lynching of African American women to establish that they too were murdered by white supremacy terrorists but also to once again challenge the dominate narrative that only black men accused of raping white women were lynched. In fact, roughly 80 percent of the lynchings were touched off by all sorts of accusations, but often they were directly related to the economics of the sharecropper system that made African American women and men dependent on plantation owners to fairly distribute the proceeds from the sale of the cotton crops.

As we gathered the names of female lynching victims, we came across a troubling phenomenon. Many of the 188 female victims of mob murders were nameless in two distinct ways: They were listed as an “unidentified Negro women” or their names were Mrs. followed by their spouses’ names.  In addition, some were listed only as “daughter.” Finally, many of the facts surrounding their murders are unknown.

First question: Should the Jane Crow Project repeat the exact wording of the listing, including the word “Negro?” The project’s style is to use the phrase African American to be more precise and the phrase women of African descent, to include women living in other nations. However, the current listings did not use either, but used the word “black.” In the end, we decided to go with “black,” because the term is commonly used by such organizations as Black Mamas Matter.

Third question: What should the name be linked to? In some cases, we found contemporary newspaper accounts; in others, like the Hastings’ mother and daughter, no more than their names, murder site and date. We opted for links to a source, however brief the mention, just in case a visitor wanted to follow up with the author of that list.

Here is an example of how we resolved one case, mentioned by the anti-lynching journalist and activist Ida B. Wells in her book “Red Record,” published in 1895.

(mother)         Hastings        1892/11/02   BlackJonesville      LA      

https://goo.gl/jZeU0c

(daughter)     Hastings        1892/11/02   BlackJonesville      LA      

https://goo.gl/jZeU0c

This mention by Wells is in the section “alleged well poisonings,” a common accusation against lynching victims. Women were particularly vulnerable to accusations of poisonings because they often prepared the food believed to be toxic. We found no other record of this double murder.

Second question How to refer to the women listed only by their married names? And what about their daughters who were murdered with them?

We decided to include the spouse’s name in parenthesis when we did not have the victim’s first name. Here is an example one that includes the murder of an unnamed daughter as well.

(Mrs. Jim)      Cross 1900/03/02   BlackLowndes       AL      

https://goo.gl/XCZY0X

(daughter )    Cross 1900/03/02   BlackLowndes       AL      

https://goo.gl/XCZY0X.

In this case, no more information was available.

Third question: What should the name be linked to? In some cases, we found contemporary newspaper accounts; in others, like the Hastings’ mother and daughter, no more than their names, murder site and date. We opted for links to a source, however brief the mention, just in case a visitor wanted to follow up with the author of that list.  

Fourth question: Should we include the full identity of the link. Some were simply too extensive. We decided to use tiny urls. Some work better than others; all have been tested and work if pasted into a reader’s search engine. That was our best guess on how to handle the links.

Next month, Jane Crow will blog about the “Red Summer 1919:” again many facts are unknown as well.”

Rita Henley Jensen