Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida

Article excerpt

Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida. By Tameka Bradley Hobbs. (Gainesville and other cities: University Press of Florida, 2015. Pp. xiv, 273. $74.95, ISBN 978-0-8130-6104-7.)

Time and again the American public has been moved less by moral appeals and the plight of the disempowered and more by political expediency. In the Jim Crow era, the families of lynching victims understood the difficulty of reaching the nation's conscience, as did antilynching activists who spent decades unsuccessfully lobbying Congress to pass federal antilynching legislation. On the cusp of World War II, however, the scales of public opinion tilted, and calls to condemn lynching and prosecute lynchers finally issued from the White House, the national press, and even the editorial pages of southern newspapers.

In Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida, Tameka Bradley Hobbs argues that the geopolitical context of World War II accounts for not only the shift in public opinion on lynching but also the decline in the number of lynchings. As the United States waged a war abroad ostensibly to defeat fascism and protect democracy, more Americans came to see lynching as an embarrassing anachronism that undermined the democratic values of the United States as well as the war effort. Hobbs traces this shifting political landscape through the lynchings of four African American men and boys in Florida, all killed between 1941 and 1945: Arthur C. Williams, Cellos

Harrison, Willie James Howard, and Jesse James Payne. Even in wartime, well-worn lynching tropes cropped up again--false accusations of rape, the need to keep African Americans in their "place," and claims that the courts were too lenient on black criminals. However, with reports that Japanese and Nazi propagandists were using lynchings to expose the hypocrisy of American democracy, Florida governors grudgingly gave in to national pressure to investigate lynchings in the state. Communities where lynchings took place went through the motions of investigations, grand juries, and trials, but white juries and local residents continued to insulate negligent sheriffs and suspected lynchers from serious punishments. …

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