At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America

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Random House Publishing Group, Dec 18, 2007 - History - 544 pages
2 Reviews
It is easy to shrink from our country’s brutal history of lynching. Lynching is called the last great skeleton in our nation’s closet: It terrorized all of black America, claimed thousands upon thousands of victims in the decades between the 1880s and the Second World War, and leaves invisible but deep scars to this day. The cost of pushing lynching into the shadows, however—misremembering it as isolated acts perpetrated by bigots on society’s fringes—is insupportably high: Until we understand how pervasive and socially accepted the practice was—and, more important, why this was so—it will haunt all efforts at racial reconciliation.

“I could not suppress the thought,” James Baldwin once recalled of seeing the red clay hills of Georgia on his first trip to the South, “that this earth had acquired its color from the blood that had dripped down from these trees.” Throughout America, not just in the South, blacks accused of a crime—or merely of violating social or racial customs—were hunted by mobs, abducted from jails, and given summary “justice” in blatant defiance of all guarantees of due process under law. Men and women were shot, hanged, tortured, and burned, often in sadistic, picnic-like “spectacle lynchings” involving thousands of witnesses. “At the hands of persons unknown” was the official verdict rendered on most of these atrocities.

The celebrated historian Philip Dray shines a clear, bright light on this dark history—its causes, perpetrators, apologists, and victims. He also tells the story of the men and women who led the long and difficult fight to expose and eradicate lynching, including Ida B. Wells, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and W.E.B. Du Bois. If lynching is emblematic of what is worst about America, their fight may stand for what is best: the love of justice and fairness and the conviction that one individual’s sense of right can suffice to defy the gravest of wrongs. This landmark book follows the trajectory of both forces over American history—and makes the history of lynching belong to us all.


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User Review  - mrlzbth - LibraryThing

Amazing book about appalling history...As a history buff who has also read a lot about the death penalty in the United States, I was surprised by how many of the stories and names in this book were ... Read full review

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User Review  - bravenewcatcher - LibraryThing

An absolute must read! While I had to sort of force myself to read it at times, since the material was just so depressing and relentless, it was ultimately uplifting and inspiring. It should be required reading for students! Read full review

Contents

Prefiare
17
Epilogue
457
Arkrzowledginerzts
467
Notes
478

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About the author (2007)

Philip Dray is the co-author of We Are Not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 1988. Born in Chicago and raised in Minnesota, Dray now lives in New York City. He has been a contributor to many publications, including Mother Jones, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.


From the Hardcover edition.

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