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Contemporary account of lynching in Le Petit Journal (1906)

As lynching [ lʏnç-, lɪnç- ] wrongful sentencing and or attempted excluding National killing of real or perceived is criminals , accused or suspects without judicial judgment referred. On the one hand, the perpetrators are a wild mob , but on the other hand they are initially a group of people specially formed for this purpose who are of the opinion that the actual judges and police officers are unsuitable, incapable or corruptible and would not do anything to counter the rampant violence. Later it was understood to be racially motivated murders of blacks .

The term lynching is particularly used when the victims of these vigilante (in the US also popular justice " popular justice ") to be hanged. One then speaks of lynching . Group-organized lynching is also known as vigilantism in the United States .

Originally used to refer to any type of execution without proper judicial verdict, the term was restricted to racially motivated murders by a mob or by small groups from the late 19th century onwards.

Origin of the term

The term lynching is derived as an eponym from a person named lynch . Depending on the source, different people are named as namesake. Including:

  • James Lynch, Mayor of the Irish city of Galway , who appeared as prosecutor and judge in a murder trial against his son in 1493 and, after his conviction, also as executioner.
  • John Lynch, who at the end of the 17th century was given unlimited judicial and executive power by the residents of North Carolina .
  • Charles Lynch (1736-1796), known as an arbitrary right-speaking colonel and judge who in the American Revolutionary War with both england faithful loyalists as well as supposedly criminals without due trial short work made and punish let them (usually by flogging).
  • William Lynch (1742-1820) from Virginia. He organized a vigilante group in Pittsylvania County to catch and punish a notorious gang of robbers.

United States

The first associations for the purpose of vigilante justice - self-designation Vigilante Committees (German often translated as " vigilante " or "vigilance association") - formed in the middle of the 18th century. Vigilante groups were formed everywhere to put a stop to the growing crime during the western expansion of America . The idea of ​​the administration of justice exercised by the citizens themselves received great support during the gold prospecting and later in the American Civil War because the legal system - in the opinion of the citizens - did not function properly or was corrupt. On June 13, 1851, the Daily Alta California said:

“WHEREAS it has become apparent to the citizens of San Francisco, that there is no security for life and property, either under the regulations of society as it at present exists, or under the law as now administered; Therefore the citizens, whose names are hereunto attached, do unit themselves into an association for the maintenance of the peace and good order of society, […] but we are determined that no thief, burglar, incendiary or assassin, shall escape punishment, either by the quibbles of the law, the insecurity of prisons, the carelessness or corruption of the police, or a laxity of those who pretend to administer justice. "

“It has become apparent to the citizens of San Francisco that there is no security for life and property, either under the rules of the community as they currently exist or the law as it is now practiced. Therefore, the citizens, whose names are printed below, have united in a society for the maintenance of peace and the good order of society [...] we are determined that no thief, robber, arsonist or murderer should escape punishment, neither by the intricacies of the law, the insecurity of prisons, the indifference or corruption of the police, or the laxity of those who pretend to administer the law. "

- Daily Alta California, June 13, 1851
Two newly caught malefactors are hanged, San Francisco 1856
“Do not forgive them, Lord, because they know exactly what they are doing!” Drawing by the Polish-American artist Arthur Szyk from 1949

In doing so, these citizens believed they were right and for a long time they did not have to expect any consequences for the illegal activities, which often ended in public executions . In the area of ​​the expanding western border (known in German as the Wild West ), these activities actually served in part to pave the way for the correct implementation of the laws. One of the best-known examples of this was the vigilance associations established in San Francisco during the gold rush , which publicly hanged several men who had been caught in the act and then broke up when order was restored through new elections . The term "lynching" in the narrower sense does not mean extrajudicial punishment per se, but rather the public hanging of the suspect. As a deterrent, the corpses were often hung up very high and presented.

Another occurrence of vigilance committees was in Bannack and Virginia City , in Montana between 1863 and 1865. A gang of gangsters known as "road agents" was blamed for more than 100 murders and robberies. Twenty-two men were hanged by vigilante activists, including the sheriff of Bannack, who was identified as the alleged head of the gang. There was never any evidence of the guilt of the hanged man.

Postcard with a photo of the charred body of Jesse Washington (1916). Text: This is the barbecue we had last night. […] Your son, Joe. ("That was our barbecue last night . [...] Your son Joe.")

With the American Civil War , "lynching" became an instrument of intimidation against Afro-Americans or other minorities, often practiced by members of the Ku Klux Klan , but also by other mostly white parts of the population of the southern states . According to older estimates, based on lists from the Tuskegee Institute from 1912 and 1919 and revised and revised in 1995, a total of 3833 people were lynched between 1889 and 1940; Ninety percent of these murders took place in the southern states, with four-fifths of the victims being African American. According to censuses presented in 2015 by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which erected the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama , more than 4,400 people died in racially motivated lynching in twelve southern states between 1877 and 1950. According to the EJI documentation Lynching in America , contrary to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution , which forbade slavery, which was passed in December 1865 , a "second slavery" had been established, which exposed blacks to a form of public torture practically without any law by the state and federal authorities was largely tolerated. The report concludes that this lynching was terrorism .

Sometimes postcards were made from photos of the lynch victims. These served both to amuse the perpetrators and their sympathizers and to deter and intimidate the Afro-American population. The case of Emmett Till , who was 14 when he was murdered, attracted particular attention .

The song Strange Fruit thematizes the lynchings and became world famous through the interpretation Billie Holidays and an expression of the civil rights movement . In Montgomery, Alabama , a memorial to the victims of lynching was opened in July 2018 on the initiative of the civil rights group EJI in cooperation with the architect Michael Murphy . It is called The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and is intended to achieve reconciliation between the country and its history .


See also

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Manfred Berg; introduction
  2. Patrick Bauser: ( Page no longer available , search in web archives: The West of Ireland. ) In: FH-Zeitung , 2005.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /
  3. ^ Organization of the Vigilance Committee . Daily Alta California, Volume 2, Number 185, 13 June 1851, page 2, column 3. June 13, 1851. Retrieved November 21, 2018.
  4. a b Larry E Sullivan; Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement ; Keyword “Vigilantes”; Article online ; New York 2005; ISBN 0-7619-2649-6
  5. Becky Little: See America's First Memorial to its 4,400 Lynching Victims. April 20, 2018. Retrieved April 21, 2018 .
  6. ^ Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. Equal Justice Initiative, EJI homepage.
  7. Peter Winkler: In the epicenter of the race issue In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of August 21, 2018
  8. Hannes Stein : Lynching, a folk festival. In: Die Welt , November 20, 2017; Lynching Memorial's Designer Seeks Healing Through Architecture. In: WBUR , September 23, 2016; Marc Neumann: Lynching in the USA: Even the mob murders with a system. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , July 13, 2018. See the initiators ' website , accessed on November 20, 2017 (English).
  9. ↑ Aviator murders Pforzheim


  • James Allen (Ed.): Without Sanctuary. Lynching Photography in America . Twin Palms Publications, 2000, ISBN 0-944092-69-1 . (with online support material )
  • Manfred Berg : Lynch justice in the USA . Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-86854-273-8 . limited preview in Google Book search
  • Philip Dray: At the Hands of Persons Unknown. The Lynching of Black America. Random House, New York 2002, ISBN 0-375-50324-2 or ISBN 0-375-75445-8 .
  • Jacqueline Goldsby: A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature. Chicago 2006, ISBN 978-0-226-30137-2 .
  • Karlos K. Hill: Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory. Cambridge University, Cambridge 2016, ISBN 978-1-1076-2037-7 .
  • Daniel Kato: Liberalizing Lynching: Building a New Racialized State. Oxford University Press, New York 2016, ISBN 978-0-19-023257-3 .
  • Judith Ketelsen: The unspeakable crime. The criminalization of the victims in the discourse on lynching and rape in the southern United States after the civil war . Lit, Münster 2000, ISBN 3-8258-4498-6 .
  • Sascha W. Krause: The anatomy of resistance. The rhetoric of anti-lynching in American literature and culture, 1892-1936 . Dissertation, University of Regensburg 2006 ( full text )
  • Danielle F. Jung, Dara Kay Cohen: Lynching and Local Justice: Legitimacy and Accountability in Weak States. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2020, ISBN 978-1-108-79447-3 .
  • Ersula J. Ore: Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, and American Identity. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2019, ISBN 978-1-4968-2160-7 .
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Mob Rule in New Orleans. Robert Charles and His Fight to Death, the Story of His Life, Burning Human Beings Alive, Other Lynching Statistics . 1900. ( E-Text )
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett: The Red Record. Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States . 1895. ( E-Text )
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Southern Horrors. Lynch Law in All Its Phases . ( E-text )

Web links

Wiktionary: Lynchjustiz  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Lynch justice  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files