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28. Lynching

[Female voice] But I had another couple of things I wanted to ask you.

________ we get the lynching. One of the things also that had to do with this notion of the American dream, ______ which in the North you had a chance. Does anybody know what got somebody lynched?

[Female voice] Gotta be with a white woman.

That's the myth, that's the excuse but that's not the reason, or the whole one. There actually are not that many lynchings where someone actually did something to a white woman. The problem tended to be something, basically that's the excuse, if you want to lynch that guy you find some kind of sexual offense. But does anybody know what actually got you lynched?

[Female voice] Being successful, possibly.

That's what got you lynched. There were a lot of things that could get you lynched. For example, one of the things that we know is that black men coming into communities where they're not known and doing something that might be threatening, that was a problem. But being successful was one of the main reasons; there you do see a pattern, that if you were too successful you could get lynched. Again, that kind of notion that any way you try to improve yourself could in fact bounce back the other way. Certainly the most visible lynchings are of the people who are successful because those are the ones that get reported to the newspapers.

And also, I noticed that some of the __________, and he's lynched really because he's different. He's in a southern town, _____, because it's not typical of southern culture _______. And this murder occurs, and how this murder seems to blow up this little town, this man is accused of being the murderer and then when the Governor steps in, _____ and running for office he steps in and finally investigates it he steps in and very quickly finds out that this man could not have committed this murder. The man is taken away, told to leave town, just leave. Before he gets to leave people come out for him out to this country farm and they string him up. And just using this isolated case _______ New Orleans where these have these _______ trials and they have these lynchings there specifically because they are successful. And working on the docks, is specifically a threat, the excuse is that a police chief was being killed by someone in the Mafia and then there's mass hysteria in this town in New Orleans and eleven people are either shot or lynched. But the idea of being successful, _____________ out of place you said the excuse was we don't know or he did this so we'll just hang him to make an example across either racial boundaries as far as to the economics and just to the balance.

What's interesting is that when you look at lynchings you can get a sense sometimes of the different reasons these groups were a threat. So for African Americans in the South for example, if a man was lazy, good-for-nothing, fulfilled all the stereotypes he wasn't dangerous. The dangerous ones were the ones not willing to stay in their place and when you look at lynchings that's what you see. One way or another whether it's through acts violence, whether it's through mobility but some way in which, especially a male, did something which suggested he wouldn't accept his place; that was probably, in most cases, the easiest way to get lynched.

[Female voice] Also just become someone had a job. If you didn't feel that they should have this opportunity. Cause this happened I know in Tennessee, ____ my family. ____ didn't have no opportunity and this is before Jim Crow too, but actually in most _____racial, ____ ethnic neighborhoods. But a certain group, when Jim Crow comes into the picture, the law changes, it's going to be stricter and these people had worked together all along before this law came into play and all of a sudden the law changes and then the attitude changes. Well, why does he have this job, why does he have a home, why does he have land, and then ____ to motivate _____ against someone being successful, trumped up charges to move someone out of a job because a white person should have it. It still keeps coming back to success, education, even though you were told in society to aspire to be better, even in black society to aspire to be better because if you did that they would be more accepting of you and even if you did, you would still face this threat of being killed. By doing what you were told to do even in your own society.

Well W.E.B. Du Bois actually had a very interesting comment about that because one of the criticisms that you see in The Defender and the Urban League things about telling people how to act is The Defender and the Urban league are very concerned that people are being-part of acting country is being passive. And it's an important aspect of race relations because they don't want people to do that in the North. And but also another thing they keep criticizing is about acting rude. And, Du Bois makes a comment about how we are criticizing migrants for being rude because they don't give up their seats on the streetcar to white women. Well in the South, Du Bois said in the South if a Negro man gives up his seat to a white woman, except under the rules of Jim crow, the rules of Jim Crow were that the whites sit in the front and the blacks sat in the back and more white people get on, black people gradually had to give up their seats but if you're sitting in the back and a white woman gets on you don't get up to give her your seat because by giving up your seat you are being polite to a white woman in a way that implies the two of you are equal as opposed to deferential which would be following the rules of seating from front to back.

And so Du Bois says that black southerners are taught to not do certain things whereas if they follow the same behavior in the North on the streetcars they are going to be called rude. Whether it's merely speaking to someone, saying "Excuse me," it's a whole set of behaviors that in the South is dangerous and in the North it's considered being polite. And it's a very, very shrewd analysis. Before I had read this particular piece by Du Bois, it had never occurred to me that there would be very subtle differences like that where someone is doing something because all of their life they've done it because it's dangerous to do something else and now they are being told, "If you act like that, you're rude."

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