Acting Professor of History Jason Morgan Ward recently published an article in The Washington Post’s “Made by History” section. Ward discusses Mississippi’s long and tragic history of lynchings in the context of recent comments from Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. Read an excerpt of Ward’s piece below along with the full article here: “A Mississippi senator joked about ‘public hanging.’ Here’s why that’s unacceptable.”
Any mention of a “public hanging” taps a deep well of racial memory in Mississippi, and for good reason. The state led the nation in lynchings, with more than 650 killings between the Civil War and the civil rights era documented in the Equal Justice Initiative’s recent report, “Lynching in America.” While public execution by hanging persisted in Southern communities into the 20th century, spectacle lynchings outpaced and eventually replaced these “official” killings as the South’s preferred form of “public hanging.” While many lynchings occurred under cover of darkness or at the hands of small gangs of vigilantes, white Mississippians gathered by the hundreds, and occasionally thousands, to witness racial killings.