Cover image for The many faces of Judge Lynch : extralegal violence and punishment in America
The many faces of Judge Lynch : extralegal violence and punishment in America
Waldrep, Christopher, 1951-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York ; Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 264 pages, 12 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Format :


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HV6457 .W35 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The U.S. is the most violent industrialized country in the world, and lynching - that is, murder endorsed by the community - may be a key to understanding America's heritage of violence and perhaps point to solutions that can eradicate it. While lynchings are predominantly racial in tone and motive, Christopher Waldrep's sweeping study of the meaning and uses of lynching from the colonial period to the present reveals that the definition of the term has shifted dramatically over time, and that the victims and perpetuators of lynching were as diverse as its many meanings. By examining lynching from a comparative and temporal perspective, Waldrep teaches us important lessons not only about racial violence in America, but about the ways in which communities define and justify crime and the punishment of its criminals.

Author Notes

CHRISTOPHER WALDREP is Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Chair in History at San Francisco State University. He is the author of numerous articles and three books: Night Riders: Defending Community in the Black Patch, 1890-1915 (1993); Roots of Disorder: Race and Criminal Justice in the American South, 1817-80 (1998); and Local Matters: Race, Crime, and Justice in the Nineteenth-Century South (edited with Donald Nieman, 2001).

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

To the numerous books on lynching and the anti-lynching movement in America, Waldrep (history, San Francisco State Univ.) now adds a detailed study of the word lynching and its changing meaning over 200 years of American history. Legend credits Charles Lynch of Virginia as the term's source, based on his suppression of loyalists during the American Revolution through extralegal beatings and killings. The term became common currency during the 19th century to describe the killing by a mob of an accused individual, regardless of race. Though some newspapers condemned the practice, others saw it as a reflection of the popular will and a necessary means of maintaining order in frontier America. Following the Civil War, white Southerners used violence and terror to suppress black freedmen. By the beginning of the 20th century, anti-lynching activists like Ida B. Wells succeeded in defining the term as exclusively white-on-black violence. However, by century's end some critics began referring to the practice of legal lynching through abuse of the criminal justice system, and the existence of hate crimes against other nonwhites and gays suggest possible new ways to expand the definition. Waldrep's widely researched work provides an excellent overview of a horrendous practice in American society. In contrast to Waldrep's broad study, journalist Wexler's book focuses on the last mass lynching in America, when a mob shot two black men and two black women in Walton County, GA, on July 25, 1946. Though the killings became national news, law enforcement officials failed to identify the killers, and no one has yet been legally connected to the lynching. Wexler uses interviews, newspaper accounts, archival materials, and FBI reports to present the crime's background, police investigation, and aftermath. As with Waldrep's book, this reflective study is recommended for all libraries.-Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ., Parkersburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Waldrep (San Francisco State Univ.) adds to the extensive literature on violence and racial lynching in the US with this history of the rhetorical uses of the word "lynching," from revolutionary-era Virginia to the present. In a snappy reportorial style informed by primary research in hundreds of newspapers, magazines, fictional works, official documents, and manuscripts, he shows that the word has always been powerful, conveying either the legitimacy or illegitimacy of violent acts, depending on the writer's ability to tap into conceptions of fairness and restraint, or, alternatively, the community's right to punish crime. In his view, people have defined lynching in ways intended to advance their own agendas, from Whigs who wished to question Jacksonian "mob rule" in the 1830s, to the NAACP's dispute with Tuskegee Institute over the definition of lynching a century later (which had implications for civil rights strategies). Waldrep shows that even with the decline of jail mobbings, the word did not disappear, but transformed into such new notions as "legal lynching." While the book is neither comprehensive nor particularly theoretical, it does speak powerfully to a general educated audience, alerting them to the ability of language to manipulate. Summing Up: Recommended. All libraries. P. F. Field Ohio University

Table of Contents

1 The Origins of the Word
2 The Word and the Nation
3 "California Law": The West and the Nation
4 "What We Call Murder": Lynching and the Meaning of Legitimacy in Reconstruction
5 "The Indignation of the People Knew No Bounds": The Lynching Narrative in the 1870s and 1880s
6 "Threadbare Lies": Making Lynching Racial
7 Tuskegee, the NAACP, and the Definition of Lynching, 1899-1940
8 High-Tech Lynchings: Making the Rhetoric National
9 Epilogue: Hate Crimes