At the Hands of Persons Unknown

At the Hands of Persons Unknown

The Lynching of Black America

Book - 2002
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It is easy to shrink from our country's brutal history of lynching. Lynching is called the last great skeleton in our nation's closet: It terrorized all of black America, claimed thousands upon thousands of victims in the decades between the 1880s and the Second World War, and leaves invisible but deep scars to this day. The cost of pushing lynching into the shadows, however--misremembering it as isolated acts perpetrated by bigots on society's fringes--is insupportably high: Until we understand how pervasive and socially accepted the practice was--and, more important, why this was so--it will haunt all efforts at racial reconciliation. "I could not suppress the thought," James Baldwin once recalled of seeing the red clay hills of Georgia on his first trip to the South, "that this earth had acquired its color from the blood that had dripped down from these trees." Throughout America, not just in the South, blacks accused of a crime--or merely of violating social or racial customs--were hunted by mobs, abducted from jails, and given summary "justice" in blatant defiance of all guarantees of due process under law. Men and women were shot, hanged, tortured, and burned, often in sadistic, picnic-like "spectacle lynchings" involving thousands of witnesses. "At the hands of persons unknown" was the official verdict rendered on most of these atrocities. The celebrated historian Philip Dray shines a clear, bright light on this dark history--its causes, perpetrators, apologists, and victims. He also tells the story of the men and women who led the long and difficult fight to expose and eradicate lynching, including Ida B. Wells, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and W.E.B. Du Bois. If lynching is emblematic of what is worst about America, their fight may stand for what is best: the love of justice and fairness and the conviction that one individual's sense of right can suffice to defy the gravest of wrongs. This landmark book follows the trajectory of both forces over American history--and makes the history of lynching belong to us all.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2002
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780375503245
Branch Call Number: 364.134 D768
Characteristics: xii, 528 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm


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Dec 12, 2016

A harrowing and astonishing journey into the American heart of racial darkness. For a century AFTER the abolition of slavery, the United States practiced lynching in an effort to perpetuate slavery by other means. Thousands of black people (and sometimes other groups) were ritually murdered, not infrequently in macabre "spectacle lynchings" that were announced in the newspaper and on radio, drawing thousands of spectators from miles around. If you think torture began with the War on Terror, you are sadly mistaken. Read this book and you will know of the venerable American tradition of ceremonial torture, and the amazing civic resistance that finally got rid of it.

Dec 06, 2007

Finalist of the 2003 Pulitzer prize for history.


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