Lynching redux

Wendalyn Nichols wendalyn at NYC.RR.COM
Tue Aug 2 20:23:23 UTC 2005

James, I beg to differ with 4).

I have here on my desk a book called Without Sanctuary: Lynching
Photography in America.

It's chilling stuff.

One of the practices of those who lynched black people was to pose with the
victim and create commemorative picture postcards from the photos. I'll
quote from the introduction, which describes one such postcard that a
Unitarian minister, John H. Holmes, received after he'd condemned lynching.
The person *sending* the postcard wrote, "This is the way we do them down
here. The last lynching has not been put on card yet. Will put you on our
regular mailing list. Expect one a month on the average."

Another quote is from a newspaper in Meridian, Mississippi: in an article
that is sympathetic to the lynchers, the writer says, "The men who do the
lynchings...are not men who flout the law but men who sincerely believe
they have the best interest of their fellow wmen and women at heart."

Here's a quote from William Van Amberg Sullivan, former US Senator from
"I led the mob which lynched Nels Patton, and I am proud of it. I directed
every movement of the mob and I did everything I could to see that he was

I'm sure people can dig up a lot more--I get sickened every time I open
this book, which is why I make myself do it from time to time. It's
instructive to remember that both those who perpetrated the atrocities and
those who condemned them called the practice "lynching."

I would agree that, nowadays, if someone uses the word "lynching" to refer
to something that is not a vigilante killing, that person is more likely
than not to be intentionally evoking the connotation of unjust
victimization. But I wouldn't say that anyone reporting on a vigilante
killing who calls it a "lynching" is making a value judgment. Certainly,
articles and books that treat the subject of lynching are using the term

Wendi Nichols

At 12:10 PM 8/2/05, you wrote:
>At 12:11 AM -0400 7/28/05, Wilson Gray wrote:
> >In an earlier  thread, there was some question as to whether vigilantes
> >had to use  hanging as the means of execution in order for said
> >execution to count as  a lynching.
> >
> >The NYT, in a recent article, referred to a vigilante  killing as a
> >lynching, even though the four victims had been shot to  death. IIRC,
> >the article described the occurrence as "the last mass  lynching."
>I am going to take the law into my own hands.
>I state:  EVERY SINGLE ADS-L MEMBER who has contributed to this and  related
>threads has been WRONG.
>First to dispose of an extended meaning of "lynching".  During the  Clarence
>Thomas confirmation hearings, someone (I forget whether it was Thomas  or
>Anita Hill, but both were justified in the usage) referred to the
>ongoing  circus
>as "a legal lynching".  This extended sense does not concern us  here.
>A lynching is
>1) a premeditated killing
>2) in which the killers (sometimes called "vigilantes") have no legal
>standing to try or punish the victim
>3) in which the killers justify their premeditated action by claiming the
>victim's alleged action justified and/or required killing him/her
>4) AND in which the narrator who uses the word "lynching" disapproves of  the
>Note number 4).  "Lynch" is NOT a neutral term.  It is a value  judgment,
>used only when the narrator disapproves of the killing.
>I have not seen the NYT article cited above, but I would be willing to bet
>money that the author disapproved of the "vigilante killing" and hence it was
>not just proper but required that he refer to it as a "lynching".  I also  do
>not doubt that Wilson Gray disapproved of the killing and hence he too was
>proper and using correct English when he also used the term "lynching" (I
>add that I am rather sure I too would disapprove of the killing were I to
>read  the article).
>When you use the word "lynch" you do not imply a hanging; rather you state
>that the killing in question was both vigilante-style and UNACCEPTABLE.
>"Lynch" is therefore a "loaded" term, but since the activity being  described
>is widely disapproved, I can hardly object to the use of such a loaded  term.
>For comparison, consider the words "homicide" and "murder".  "Murder"  is a
>value judgment term.  "Homicide" is a neutral term, used in law to  refer to a
>killing before the court has decided who, what, why.  It is  understandable
>for a court to return a verdict of "justifiable homicide".   The term
>"justifiable murder" however would be a rather moronic oxymoron.
>                - James A. Landau (prescriptivist and proscriptivist

More information about the Ads-l mailing list