A Deed So Accursed: Lynching in Mississippi and South Carolina, 1881-1940

By Hudson, Janet G. | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

A Deed So Accursed: Lynching in Mississippi and South Carolina, 1881-1940


Hudson, Janet G., The Journal of Southern History


A Deed So Accursed: Lynching in Mississippi and South Carolina, 1881-1940. By Terence Finnegan. American South Series. (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2013. Pp. [xii], 231. $39.50, ISBN 978-0-8139 3384-9.)

In A Deed So Accursed: Lynching in Mississippi and South Carolina, 1881-1940, Terence Finnegan explores the role that extralegal violence played in the rise and reign of institutional forms of white supremacy between Reconstruction and World War II. Much of Finnegan's explanation for the highly varied incidents of racial violence rests on the social, economic, and political competition among black and white southerners as African Americans asserted their claims to freedom. In his study Finnegan analyzes all identifiable lynching incidents in Mississippi and South Carolina, two Deep South states with black-majority populations during most of the period studied. Finnegan offers a complex, deeply contextualized collection of explanations derived from quantifying and categorizing lynching incidents from 1881 to 1940 within eight well-defined geographic regions in each of the two states, while carefully attending to the particular histories of each region.

Finnegan consistently grounds his analyses in the historical context of the communities where lynching occurred. Thus he identifies an array of lynching patterns in Mississippi and South Carolina that confound broad generalization. He demonstrates convincingly that the mix of racial demography, economy, class tensions, and previous experiences in particular regions influenced the frequency of lynching, alleged purpose, size of the mob, time of year, and characteristics of the victim--occupation, community standing, class, gender, and race. To complement his quantitative analysis, Finnegan weaves in narrative profiles of notorious lynchings, particularly those that attracted national attention.

In a study that rightly complicates every generalization used to explain lynching, Finnegan's data supports definitively one clear pattern: white Mississippians lynched more frequently, later into the twentieth century, and with greater vengeance than did white South Carolinians. While both cotton belt states had political cultures replete with demagogic rhetoric that overtly defended lynching, in the sixty-year span examined lynching incidents in Mississippi totaled 572, three times the comparable 178 lynching incidents in South Carolina, although only 270 percent more when allowing for South Carolina's somewhat smaller population. …

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