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by Ashraf H.A. Rushdy

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-300-18138-8
Publisher: Yale Univ.

An all-encompassing history of lynchings in America from 1780 to the present.

Rushdy (African-American Studies/Wesleyan Univ.; Remembering Generations: Race and Family in Contemporary African American Fiction, 2000, etc.) delves deeply into the complicated subject of lynching in America, both from a historical and linguistic perspective. “There are different kinds of lynchings,” writes the author, “different sorts of acts, some of which are called lynchings and others not, driven by different motives, employing different strategies, and occurring in different historical contexts.” In short, “lynching” knows no singular definition, and, according to Rushdy, it is a term “more evocative than descriptive.” For the most part, however, the author steers clear of the subject’s evocative nature and relies on an intellectual distance that allows scholarship to outweigh pathos. From Revolutionary War colonel Charles Lynch’s 1780 extralegal execution of a Tory to the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. by white supremacists, Rushdy’s sweeping story addresses race, politics and the sordid history of vigilante justice that often brought them together. While relying heavily on previous scholarship, the author’s most interesting contribution surrounds his argument that lynching “was not just a means of social control that replaced slavery. It was a product of slavery.” That institution, Rushdy argues, created the culture that “empowered [the] lynch mob.”

A triumphant work on the problematic history of one of America’s longest and most troubling traditions.