During this past week’s class, I asked if an overwhelming black population could dissuade whites from carrying out lynchings. Without being able to talk about any specific studies, we deferred to the age-old example of a powerful but numerically inferior elite exerting control over the masses.
I decided to look into spatial distributions of lynchings compared to population demographics. Let’s just say the findings were not what I was hoping for. In Mississippi there was no protection in numbers. Instead, there seemed to be more targets for lynch mobs.
PBS’s “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow” has a wonderful interactive maps feature. Population maps from 1870-1960 for both whites and blacks are available. Also, total lynchings by state (on both whites and blacks) are mapped from 1882-1968. The maps allowed me to find states that had black majorities for time frames longer than 20 or 30 years. South Carolina and Mississippi both fit into that category. South Carolina, the prototypical state I tend to think of as one with a historical black majority, did not have nearly as many lynchings of blacks as Mississippi, with “only” 156 recorded.
What can we draw from these numbers? I would argue that a county-by-county study would be necessary to really delve into any correlation between black population and lynchings. These maps do offer a broad view of the numbers, which unfortunately suggests that there was probably not safety in numbers for blacks in the Jim Crow South when face-to-face with lynch mobs.