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Date: Sat, 3 Jul 1999 17:38:16 -0700 (PDT)
From: Art McGee <amcgee@igc.org>
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Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Black Resistance in the Age of Jim Crow
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Full Article: http://www.wilpaterson.edu/~newpol/issue27/goldbe27.htm

Review of Leon F. Litwack, Trouble In Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (excerpt)

New Politics, Vol.7 no.3 (n.s.), whole no.27, Summer 1999

Leon F. Litwack
Trouble In Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow
New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998

SOUTHERN BLACKS, TRAPPED BETWEEN SLAVERY AND FREEDOM, did not simply face the "human condition." And they also faced more than the insecurity and humiliation of overpowered dependent immigrant workers. They had to endure "gratuitous," to use James Baldwin's word, suffering from the outrages of white folks who denied their common humanity.

Their killing was not an industrial "accident" for which employers denied responsibility, nor was it the result of the repression of organized challenges to capital, it was the consequence of any white man's assertion of racial privilege. White power was openly, regularly, and boastfully homicidal. According to Litwack, "Between 1890 and 1917, to enforce deference and submission to whites, some two to three black Southerners were hanged, burned at the stake, or quietly murdered every week." Lynching may not have been a daily occurrence and few were as widely publicized as that of Sam Hose, but, as Litwack explains, "Nothing so dramatically or forcefully underscored the cheapness of black life in the South."

While lynching had long been a means of dishing out extralegal justice to whites as well as blacks, "in the 1890s, lynching and sadistic torture rapidly became exclusive public rituals of the South, with black men and women as their principle victims." Of course, white power had long been inscribed on black bodies and both during slavery and reconstruction resistance prompted deadly retribution. But in crucial ways, Litwack argues, the execution of Hose and others was strikingly new . . . To kill the victim was not enough; the execution needed to be turned into a public ritual, a collective experience, and the victim needed to be subjected to extraordinary torture and humiliation.

What had been in the past a usually rapid dispatch of the victim, now became part of a voyeuristic spectacle.

Indeed, widely circulated written accounts and photographs - even early sound recordings -- broadened the size of the audience for this racist pornography of alleged crime and punishment. Although associated in the popular mind with the defense of white womanhood, not only were the charges often fabricated, but, in the overwhelming majority of cases the victim had not, in fact, been charged with a sexual assault. Whether it took the form of spectacle or smaller public executions, southern blacks endured a reign of white terror.

Copyright (c) 1999 New Politics

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