Letter to the NAACP: History of Lynching

hollywoodbureau@naacpnet.org

washingtonbureau@naacpnet.org

@NAACP

 

Dear NAACP:

I noticed that on your page, “History of Lynching,” although you do not attribute your figures, you are using the numbers from the Tuskegee Institute. That means the history you present has a definite bias because it is well-known that the Tuskegee Institute divided people into a binary of Black or White. On your website you note: 

Throughout the late 19th century racial tension grew throughout the United States.  More of this tension was noticeable in the Southern parts of the United States.  In the south, people were blaming their financial problems on the newly freed slaves that lived around them.  Lynchings were becoming a popular way of resolving some of the anger that whites had in relation to the free blacks.

From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States.  Of these people that were lynched 3,446 were black.  The blacks lynched accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched.  These numbers seem large, but it is known that not all of the lynchings were ever recorded.  Out of the 4,743 people lynched only 1,297 white people were lynched.  That is only 27.3%.  Many of the whites lynched were lynched for helping the black or being anti lynching and even for domestic crimes.

According to Ken Burns’ limited series “The West” and Ken Gonzales-Day’s book, “Lynching in the West 1850-1935,” the lynchings in the West targeted Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans. The lynchings of Chinese settlers mostly pre-date 1882 because 1882 was the year of the Chinese Exclusion Act. That legislative act alone should have been reason enough not to include Asians in the White category. 

Does the Tuskegee Institute then include the Chinese man who was shot and hanged in Monterey (1885) for voting as White? The Chinese who was beaten to death in Anderson? Does Filipino World War I vet, Robert B. Martin, who was lynched in 1930 in Susanville because he was seen talking with White women also become White?  In his article for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Emil Guillermo wrote: “Many lynchings weren’t reported in the mainstream media at the time. But they were reported in the ethnic press, specifically, a Filipino newspaper in the Central Valley known as Three Stars.” One such incident was the lynching of two Filipino men in Lodi (August 1930).  

Moreover, the statistics do not include the Chinese Massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles because of the years covered AND the statistics do not include Hawaii. A Japanese man, Katsu Goto, was lynched in Hawaii in 1889 and Joe Kahahawai,  in 1932. I did not see Hawaii listed in the Tuskegee Institute statistics

Your website states: “In the West these greater number of white lynchings was due to political reasons not racial reasons,” and that “Most of the lynching in the West came from the lynching of either murders or cattle thief’s.” Besides the question wording (it probably should be “the lynching of either murderers or cattle thieves” or “from the lynching for either murders or cattle theft”), was this really true?

Gonzales-Day counted 352 victims in California from 1850 to 1935: 132 Latinos, 120 Whites, 41 Native Americans, 29 Chinese immigrants, 22 victims whose race/ethnicity he could not determine, and 8 Blacks. Adam M. Sowards adds in his 2018 article, “Reckoning with History: The Legacy of Lynching in the West,” for High Country News: “It was not just about African-American victims and did not happen only in the South. Even so, as his list reveals, Western lynching disproportionately targeted people of color.”

In the West, Latinos had been driven out of what had once been Mexico (Mexican-American War, 1846-1848). In the aftermath, there was intense racial violence  according to the JStor.org article, “The Untold History of Lynching in the American West.” 

The locations of most of these cases were Texas (282), California (188), Arizona (59), and New Mexico (49). Breaking down the incidents, Carrigan and Webb found that the years between 1848-1879 had the astonishing lynching rate of 473 per 100,000 people. This was during the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, when a large part of Mexico was annexed and colonized by the U.S. Carrigan and Webb call this period one of “unparalleled danger from mob violence” for people of Mexican ancestry.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the rate had reduced to 27.4 lynching victims per 100,000. As a matter of comparison, in the same period rates of lynching for African Americans in the South varied from North Carolina’s 11 per 100,000 to Alabama’s 32.4 per 100,000.

According to a PBS article, “Historians say that from 1910 to 1920, an estimated 5,000 people of Mexican descent were killed or vanished in the U.S.” Where these Mexican Americans also considered White by Tuskegee? The impact on a minority community is reflected in the second paragraph. Likewise, the impact on the smaller Asian American community would be best reflected in terms of percentages.  Moreover these findings make your contention that “Most of the lynching in the West came from the lynching of either murders or cattle thief’s” seem questionable.  

I know from the history of the NAACP that it was “Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country,” and from your website I noted that your focus remains on the African American community because you have: “The six NAACP Game Changers address the major areas of inequality facing African Americans that are the focus of the NAACP’s work.” However, surely you do not mean to promote inaccurate statistical information when there is so much more research that has been done since the founding of your organization in 1909 and since the end of the Tuskegee Institute’s statistical information in 1968. 

Ignorance toward the similar experiences of other communities may be detrimental to establishing an honest dialogue between different communities and organizations. Further, I noticed that some journalists depended upon the information your website cites in their analysis of lynching and hanging deaths, even in California.

I am hoping that you will address my concerns and use updated information on your website. 

Respectfully,

 

Jana J. Monji

Related essay: Don’t Blackout History: Lynching Beyond the Binary of Black and White

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