Making the Unknown Known: Demographic Characteristics of Southern Lynch Victims

Amy K. Bailey, Princeton University
Stewart E. Tolnay, University of Washington
E.M. Beck, University of Georgia

Much is known about contextual factors that increased the likelihood of racial violence in the historic American south. Little is known about the targets of mob violence. This paper provides the first comprehensive analysis of individual and household characteristics of people lynched in ten U.S. states over a five-decade period. We have identified historic census records of people included in an inventory of 2,500+ documented lynch victims, with roughly a 50% success rate, and use this information to identify factors affecting individual risk of victimization. We compare lynch victims to a randomly-selected sample from counties where lynchings occurred, examining social, economic and household factors including age, marital status, literacy and occupation, birth order, children’s schooling, nativity, and homeownership. Our results will help determine if – and how – lynch victims varied systematically from the general population, and identify whether risk factors for racial violence varied over time or across geography.

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Presented in Poster Session 7