‘Of These, One was a Woman’: The Lynching of African American Women, 1885-1946
Marie Rose Johnson
Thesis DT 3.5 1998 J6483
xi, 190 leaves: ill.; 29 cm.
As members of the community most severely targeted by lynch-law in the new South, African American women remain virtually invisible to historians examining this phenomenon. Though scholars acknowledge the lynching of Black women, their deaths appear parenthetical and therefore unworthy of historical analysis. Following in the footsteps of contemporary anti-lynching advocates who failed to view the lynching of Black women as a unique and separate occurrence, current scholars have overlooked the fact that some white southern mobs purposely and willfully brutalized Black women.
Assigning the experiences of lynched Black women to the margins widens the historical void. First, we deny an important aspect of African American women's history. Whether one or one thousand women died at the hands of white southern mobs, those deaths must be counted and included in our collective remembering of Back women's lives in the post-Reconstruction South. Second, scholar's avoidance of examining lynched Black women suggest this area of inquiry would add nothing to our understanding of lynching or southern mob violence. Unfortunately, this assumption is made without research or investigation, hence without basis. Additionally, as long as current scholarship continues to treat the mob murders of African American women as irrelevant, the implication is that their deaths held no meaning in local Black communities, and had little, if any, impact on the southern community at-large. However, the lynching of Black women was significant. It was an attempt to undermine Black families and destabilize the entire African American community, while simultaneously reaffirming southern whites' rabid power. Finally, the exclusion of lynched women inadvertently masks the epidemic of racialized sexual violence experienced by many southern Black women. It was a unique form of violence that permeated their everyday lives, often influencing decisions made and actions taken. In the bodies of lynched women we can see clearly the legacy of that violence.
To begin addressing some of the aforementioned historical voids, this current work examines the reported lynching of African American women in the South, from 1885-1946. Accounts of lynched women are presented in detail, along with statistical information and analyses of the circumstances that led to the violence. Using a variety of sources but relying heavily on primary documents, lynched Black women are located at the center of their own stories where their experiences can be identified, and the condition of their lives and deaths explored.
Placing Black women at the center, this study recognizes them as contributors to as well as victims of the entire southern race, class, and gender matrix, As laborers, grass root activists and organizers, mothers of black children, sexual and romantic partners to Black and white men alike, African American women were an integral part of life in the New South. A race, class and gender framework reveals how those various roles made Black women a valued group of producers and reproducers, yet also vulnerable to the South's penchant for sexualized racial violence. Additionally, factoring in community membership as another target identity, we can discern how Black women's various roles made them a valued group of producers and reproducers. Yet, that unique status also made them vulnerable to racialized sexual violence.
As Blacks, as women, as workers branded with the stigma of slavery, African American women not only faced economic exploitation and socio-political marginalization, but also beatings, sexual assaults, and murder. Indeed, we will discover that the same forces that allowed for the exploitation of all Black women, similarly created a dynamic that led to the lynching of others.