White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery

By Herbert Shapiro | Go to book overview
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THE ENTRANCE of the United States into "the war to make the world safe for democracy" did not put an end to racial violence. The violence of Houston and East St. Louis was only the most blatant manifestation of the spirit that would employ violent means to preserve racial subjection. Although much of black leadership affirmed support for the war effort, brutalities against Afro-Americans continued. Rather than the reality being that violence was receding, the fact was that the forces were set in motion leading to the mass confrontations of black and white that would explode shortly after the war's end.

The NAACP summarized the lynching statistics for the war year of 1918. The association had authenticated the lynching of sixty-three black persons as well as four whites. Confirming evidence could not be obtained with regard to an additional twelve cases believed to have occurred. The summary referred to a "lynching orgy" that had taken place in Brooks and Lowndes counties, Georgia, and the breakdown of the statistics showed that the greatest number of lynchings, nineteen, had occurred in that state, Texas coming in second with eleven. President Wilson on July 26, 1918, had issued a public statement in which he described lynching as "this disgraceful evil" and stated that lynching "cannot live where the community does not countenance it." It was Woodrow Wilson's way of both denouncing lynching and making clear he would not initiate federal action to stop it. In Georgia, the association noted, the president's words had merely the effect of keeping news of lynchings out of the press.

The NAACP analysis pointed to special features of the 1918 lynchings. Five of the victims were women. Two black men were burned at the stake before death and four after death. In Texas a mother and her five children were lynched by the mob, the mother shot as she attempted to drag the bodies of her sons from their burning cabin. The pretext for violence in this case was "alleged conspiracy to avenge" the killing of another son by officers seeking to arrest him for draft evasion. The


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