Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory

Article excerpt

Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory. By Karlos K. Hill. Cambridge Studies on the American South. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. x, 145. Paper, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-107-62037-7; cloth, $99.00, ISBN 978-1-107-04413-5.)

Karlos K. Hill's Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory offers a unique and powerful contribution to the growing literature exploring black perspectives on lynchings. Using a multidisciplinary approach and a range of archival sources, Hill debunks the prevailing narrative that black responses to lynchings remained static. Rather, their narrative shifted in dynamic ways in accordance with sociopolitical conditions and cultural needs. By tracing black responses from Reconstruction to the present, Hill taps into a narrative rarely explored by historians: the two distinct black responses to racialization--the "victimization narrative" and the "consoling narrative"--and the rise and decline of black vigilantism in reaction to the racialization of lynchings (pp. 4, 70).

Hill argues that black vigilantism in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas arose out of the judicial system's failure to pursue justice when victims of crime were black. Most African Americans used vigilantism to respond to egregious crimes like murder and rape when a suspect's guilt seemed certain. Vigilantism may also have been the response when black men perceived a crime as an attack on their efforts to develop a patriarchal structure in their households because such an assault undermined their status as free men. As these lynchings served as a means of implementing justice rather than terrorizing a community, mobs delivered death quickly through hangings and shootings instead of ritualistic and torturous killings common in white mob lynchings. Hill also demonstrates that black vigilantism declined dramatically in the mid-to-late 1880s when white supremacists increasingly used lynchings, alongside segregation and black disenfranchisement, to reassert white authority in the emerging Jim Crow system. White supremacists also constructed the "black beast rapist narrative," which they used to claim that without the restraining influence of slavery or lynchings, black men would act upon their animalistic desires and rape white women (p. …

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