Readings — From the May 2015 issue

Family Tradition

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From Lynching in America, a report published in February by the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, that litigates on behalf of indigent and marginalized defendants.

At one Kentucky lynching, young white children between six and ten years old brought wood and tended to the fire in which the victim was burned. Boys especially were expected to actively engage in lynching; their roles expanded as they got older until, as young adults, they took on a direct role in the torture and murder. An African-American woman who worked for a white family in Alabama during the lynching era observed that lynching messages came early and burrowed deep. “I have seen very small white children hang their black dolls,” she explained. “It is not the child’s fault; he is simply an apt pupil.” In 1906, after a young white boy in North Carolina was injured by his eleven-year-old white playmate, who hung him from a noose fastened to a nail during a lynching game, the mother of the eleven-year-old refused to reprimand her son for his role in the mock lynching. Playing “lynching” was a popular pastime for Southern white children; the game was named Salisbury, presumably after lynchings in Salisbury, North Carolina, in 1902 and 1906 that included a fifteen-year-old black child among their victims.

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