Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Lethal Punishment: Lynchings and Legal Executions in the South

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Lethal Punishment: Lynchings and Legal Executions in the South

Article excerpt

Lethal Punishment: Lynchings and Legal Executions in the South. By Margaret Vandiver. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Pp. 336. $65.00 cloth; $27.95 paper.

Reviewed by Timothy W. Clark, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

Vandiver explores the racial nature of law and lynching in the post-bellum U.S. South in this important book. Vandiver seeks to understand why some incidents of alleged crimes and racial infractions by African Americans were likely to invoke illegal mob violence while others were left to the racially biased legal system to pursue "justice."

This book fills a long-vacant niche in the current research between historians' descriptive case studies of single lynchings or executions and social scientists' large-scale quantitative analyses of lynchings or executions across states or regions. Vandiver uses the local histories of nine Southern counties where lynchings and executions occurred to serve as case studies. For this endeavor, Vandiver selected seven rural counties from northwest Tennessee, and two urban counties, including Memphis, Tennessee, and Ocala, Florida. These geographic areas were chosen based upon the availability of a historical record and on the variations on the use of lynchings and legal executions. In this purposive sample, Vandiver includes counties where lynchings were prominent for decades and abruptly stopped, lynchings were rare and executions common, and lynchings were common and executions rare. While Vandiver admits that the generalizability of her work is limited due to the small number of cases and nonrandom sampling, this work follows the protocol of comparative analysis and provides a scale that allows us to explore variation in the outcomes-in this case, executions versus lynchings.

The book begins by detailing the nature of race relations in the counties under study and then provides a detailed look at many of the counties' lynchings and court cases ending in executions. …

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