An organisation that founded the US’s first memorial to lynching victims has announced that it documented thousands of additional killings of Black people during the era known as the Reconstruction.
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) said it has now documented nearly 6,500 lynchings of Black people between 1865 and 1950. The group, which had previously documented 4,500 lynchings, on Tuesday released a new report, titled Reconstruction in America, that documents nearly an additional 2,000 lynchings between 1865 and 1876.
“We cannot understand our present moment without recognising the lasting damage caused by allowing white supremacy and racial hierarchy to prevail during Reconstruction,” EJI founder Bryan Stevenson said in a statement released with the report.
Watch an illustration of EJI's new report. While the 12 years after enslavement initially held great hope, the era gave way to devastating violence by white people against Black communities. Our history of racial injustice requires more attention to address the issues of today. pic.twitter.com/789ZeWOhly
— Equal Justice Initiative (@eji_org) June 16, 2020
The lynchings, concentrated in but not limited to the southern US, in the years after the Civil War came as enslaved people were freed, but mobs attacked their attempts to live freely and participate in the political process.
The report documented 34 mass lynchings. In Opelousas, Louisiana, in 1868, an estimated 200 Black people were killed over several days after their participation in elections raised the ire of white vigilante groups.
In one lynching documented in the report, Perry Jeffreys, his wife, and four sons were killed in Georgia after a mob learned they planned to vote for presidential candidate Ulysses S Grant.
The report said the review of available records “paints a haunting and devastating picture of a period of deadly attacks that yielded thousands of documented victims and terrorised Black communities across the South with near-daily acts of lynching and assault”.
The Montgomery-based EJI, a legal advocacy group, began working several years ago to document lynchings.
Stevenson said telling the truth about the nation’s past, and confronting it, is crucial to understanding the present.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a memorial to lynching victims, opened in 2018. The memorial is located about a mile from the Alabama Capitol.
The design of the memorial evokes the image of a hanging, featuring scores of coffin-sized dark metal columns suspended in the air from above. The rectangular structures include the names of counties where lynchings occurred, in addition to the dates and the names of the victims.
The organisation said the combined museum and memorial will be the nation’s first site to document racial inequality in the US from slavery through Jim Crow to the issues of today.