‘Warranted’ Lynchings: Narratives of Mob Violence in White Southern Newspapers, 1880-1940

Jean, Susan
American nineteenth century history

Scholars who study lynching in the American South confront overtly biased sources when they turn to white newspapers to learn of the facts about lynchings. But it is not merely the conspicuous racism of the accounts that poses a problem for scholars, for white southern newspapers drew on highly developed narratives about lynching when they created their reports. These narratives were part of an effort by white southerners to control the representation of the practice, and they served several functions: they imparted lessons to readers about the appropriate and inappropriate parameters of mob behavior, they impeded the efforts of lynching opponents to combat the practice, and in the long term they have helped to obscure some of the reality about lynching from historians. Examining these narratives reveals much about the way that white southerners conceived of lynching; it will also, I hope, help scholars of lynching stay sensitive to the language of their sources.