The segregation culture in America created separate spaces for whites and blacks in public areas. Blacks were unfairly treated with sub-standard services, and hence they strived to get their systems and own businesses. The development of African American communities, as well as the rise of consumerism, were a threat to white superiority. Whites saw public lynching of African Americans as the way to restore the supremacy that had come under threat. The practice of public lynching was increasingly bound up from 1890 to 1940. Regular people attended these gruesome rituals to witness people get beaten and tortured to death. They went to get entertained by the rare spectacle and to exact revenge on the 'beasts' who had committed serious offenses.
People flocked to the public lynching of African Americans as a form of entertainment. It had become a public spectacle whenever there was a report of anyone about to get lynched. Newspapers printed juicy stories and made bold headlines of any impending lynching to get the public excited in anticipation of the spectacle. Those who failed to attend the lynching were catered for since newspapers and radio announcements carried vivid stories of the gruesome acts, complete with pictures, to satisfy the curiosity of the public. Lynchers and spectators even arranged special train trips to take them to the previously announced lynching locations. The segregation culture had made it fun for whites to lynch blacks as a way of re-establishing the waning white superiority. Only whites could experience the amusement of a black man burning to death (205). The spectators were so entertained by the events that unfolded that it became commonplace to see them scrambling to take souvenirs of the dead victims.
The lynching of Sam Hose shows how much of a spectacle these events had become since many people attended (210). There was a bold newspaper headline proclaiming that a determined mob was after Hose, and he would be lynched if caught. The entire white community supported the men who were searching for Hose. Hose was lynched in Newman, ten miles away from Palmetto which had been the designated location for the lynching. The crowd feared that a crazed outsider would decide to shoot the prize and deny the people their fun (212). There was later a scramble as the crowd rushed to take souvenirs by chopping off fingers, ears, and carrying away other body parts to remind them of the event. Photographers, reporters, and other people collected souvenirs to sell to other people who were 'unlucky' not to be present in what had become a booming market (210). It is clear that these crowds were keen to take something to remind them of that day since they had enjoyed the experience.
People also attended the lynching spectacles as a way of meting out vigilante justice. The white perpetrators opted to lynch African Americans as a way of revenge for alleged crimes against the blacks. In the case of Sam Hose, the crowd rushed the sheriff's office and stole the prisoner to take him to the lynching site (212). Stealing him from law enforcement officers shows that the white mob considered lynching as the only form of justice. Sam Hose had killed a person, and hence the only alternative was for him to suffer a similar fate. One of the avenging white men was thankful that they had finally exacted vengeance.
Jesse Washington was lynched in a city in the presence of thousands including the mayor of Waco City. It even occurred in the City Hall square which proves that all those in attendance had approved of the lynching as a way of getting justice for the rape and murder of Lucy Fryar (215). Washington had committed a serious offense, and it rallied the white community to stand up for one of their own by hunting down the killer. Jesse had been taken to the Waco jail and later to a courtroom, but he ended up being burned to death in the city square. Law enforcement officers had conveniently misplaced their guns when the huge crows seized Washington in the courthouse (219). It is evident that the crowd was determined to get their man despite him being under arrest, and this proves that they were not satisfied with constitutional justice procedures. The large crowd of about 15,000 spectators and participants demonstrates that they were comfortable with exacting this revenge as a form of justice.
The spectacle lynching of African Americans in the south came as a result of the need to establish white supremacy in the wake of its dwindling impact. The growing autonomy and purchasing power of blacks had to be put in check and lynching were seen as the best alternative. People attended the horrific spectacles in massive numbers to get entertained by seeing someone get tortured to death, and to collect souvenirs to remember that day. Others attended to exact vigilante justice on the victims for their crimes against whites. They did not believe the rule of law was sufficient justice and only saw murder as the alternative.
Hale, G. (1999). Deadly Amusements. In Hale, G. (Eds.), Making Whiteness.
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