For well over a century white people lynched black people in this country with virtual impunity. The specter of the frenzied mob lashing a protesting black to a fence post and, after piling wood at his feet, meeting his pleas with curses and gasoline loomed large over black Americans. Nothing struck a sharper fear into the soul than the nauseating tale of bloodthirsty whites hanging a pregnant black woman from a nearby tree, cutting out her baby, and ripping it apart as its mother slowly twisted in the evening breeze; or the tale of a mob celebrating the lynching of a rapist by mutilating the body and saving the toes, fingers, and other appendages for souvenirs. The history of post-Civil War race relations is filled with such gruesome violence because after the demise of slavery, lynching became a vital underpinning of white supremacy. Whites erected the barriers of segregation behind the terrorism of the lynch mob, which forced freedmen to accommodate the emerging realities of Jim Crow or face the possibility of death. As for the public's conceptions, for too long lynching has been associated with the "Wild West," where the "good guys" lynched the "bad guys" because there was no court or legal system to enforce the law. This is extremely misleading.
Simply stated, lynching was extralegal punishment administered by a mob. And while lynching has long been synonymous