Lynching was domestic terrorism, and thousands of African Americans were the victims of racial terror lynchings between 1876-1950. Following Emancipation, a wave of counterrevolutionary terror swept over the former Confederate States in a manner unlike that of any other western-hemisphere society that abolished slavery during the 17th or 18thcentury. Black men, women, and children were lynched for violating social customs, resisting mistreatment, or for alleged crimes, even when little evidence tied the accused to the crime. White people accused of identical violations of law or custom were rarely subjected to this same fate. Lynching in the United States increasingly became a racialized tool of oppression over the African American community and amplified the hardships of ongoing exploitation, discrimination, and criminalization in Black communities.
Lynching was not the work of a few hooded vigilantes at night; whole communities gathered in broad daylight to witness the spectacle torture of African Americans. Minstrel shows, racial science, and the racist chromolithography of the Jim Crow era embedded in the mind of White America the presumption of Black guilt and justified the treatment of African Americans due to their alleged moral inferiority. However, it wasn’t just accusations of a crime that resulted in lynching, violating the rules of the social order also had fatal consequences. There was a saying at the time that “what the law cannot do, the noose can.” African Americans were lynched for things like speaking disrespectfully to a white person, refusing to step off the sidewalk, reprimanding white children, arguing with a white man, and other perceived social infractions. African Americans had to live with the constant knowledge that they could be lynched whether they intentionally or unintentionally violated social norms. Some mobs would specifically harness the terror of lynching by conducting their lynchings within the Black part of town, or many other times, forcing other Black people to simply witness lynchings. Any African American who resisted this mistreatment or espoused Black advancement beyond the confines of the Jim Crow era, was often subject to their own lynching for simply asserting their own humanity. Thus, lynching became a tool to keep African Americans in a state of subjugation and repress African Americans’ fight for economic power and equal rights during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was lynching, more than any other force, that maintained and enforced the social stratification of the Jim Crow era.
The era of lynching may be behind us, but we, as a nation, won’t ever be able to move past it until we confront this legacy. We must pay witness to this era of domestic terrorism. We cannot say enough about the psychological wounds inflicted on the African American community, nor can we understate the psychological damage the White community passed on from generation to generation in this socialization of violence, nor can we ignore our state institution’s indifference, complicity, and endorsement of lynching. Many racial terror lynchings were not documented and their victims will never be known.
Community Remembrance Project
The Equal Justice Initiative (Montgomery, AL) has documented the lynchings of thousands of African Americans and invited those communities with a history of lynching to engage in a series of acts of remembrance to promote a culture of healing, truth, and reconciliation. This is known as the Community Remembrance Project.
For three years, ORP, the Coos History Museum, and the City of Coos Bay worked to memorialize Alonzo Tucker, the most widely documented African American victim of lynching in Oregon, into the collective memory and collective consciousness of Oregon. This work began February 29, 2020 with a soil collection ceremony for Alonzo Tucker near the spot where he was killed. Two jars of soil were collected that day. One was sent back to a museum in Montgomery and the other was put on display at the Coos History Museum. On June 19, 2021, a historical marker was installed in Coos Bay to honor Alonzo Tucker and the thousands of other African Americans who were lynched in the United States.
Alonzo Tucker was lynched in Coos Bay, OR, and thousands of Black people suffered and were traumatized by the lawless terror his death represents.
"We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it."