FEATURE OF THE MONTH
Jim Crow Justice
Each month, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing the ways in which the past and present interact by offering socially and historically relevant short articles, picture essays, and links that will guide the reader interested in knowing more.
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
These lines from the last verse of Billie Holiday's signature song "Strange Fruit, " a haunting ballad that was Holiday's closing number for much of her career, are a window into one of the worst chapters in American history. "Strange Fruit" is a poignant reminder of a horrifying image of brutality and injustice: dead men hanging from trees, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. The song highlights the legacy of violence against African Americans that plagued the Jim Crow Era and represents the nadir of race relations in post-Civil War America.
Defined as execution without due process of law, lynching was most rampant in the South during a fifty-year period following Reconstruction, claiming 3,386 known black (mostly male) victims between 1882 and 1930. The actual number of victims, however, is undoubtedly much higher. Lynching frequently took place at the instigation of large "lynch mobs, " but was also often instigated by small groups of three or four people, usually members of white supremacist or nativist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Most victims were hanged but others were shot, burned, drowned, or mutilated. Many were accused of serious crimes such as rape or murder, but most never even stood trial and few were convicted. Lynching was, in short, a means of terrorizing, disenfranchising, and brutalizing the black community by a white majority determined to maintain a racist status quo. It claimed countless innocent lives and remains a blot on American history, but also inspired many courageous individuals to expose the harsh realities of "Jim Crow Justice" and agitate to bring them to an end.View photo essay
The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about lynching, injustice in Jim Crow America, violence against African Americans, and the courageous individuals who fought against it. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)
Primary Source Documents