Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940

Front Cover
Univ of North Carolina Press, Feb 1, 2011 - History - 368 pages
2 Reviews
Lynch mobs in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America exacted horrifying public torture and mutilation on their victims. In Lynching and Spectacle, Amy Wood explains what it meant for white Americans to perform and witness these sadistic spectacles and how lynching played a role in establishing and affirming white supremacy. Lynching, Wood argues, overlapped with a variety of cultural practices and performances, both traditional and modern, including public executions, religious rituals, photography, and cinema, all which encouraged the horrific violence and gave it social acceptability. However, she also shows how the national dissemination of lynching images ultimately fueled the momentum of the antilynching movement and the decline of the practice. Using a wide range of sources, including photos, newspaper reports, pro- and antilynching pamphlets, early films, and local city and church records, Wood reconfigures our understanding of lynching's relationship to modern life.

Wood expounds on the critical role lynching spectacles played in establishing and affirming white supremacy at the turn of the century, particularly in towns and cities experiencing great social instability and change. She also shows how the national dissemination of lynching images fueled the momentum of the antilynching movement and ultimately led to the decline of lynching. By examining lynching spectacles alongside both traditional and modern practices and within both local and national contexts, Wood reconfigures our understanding of lynching's relationship to modern life.


What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

John Lee -- 13 Aug 1911 lynching Durant Oklahoma -- is accused of raping and fatally wounding my maternal great grandmother, Fannie Cannon Campbell (aka Mrs. Lee Redden Campbell, (b. 26 Feb 1887 - d. 14 Aug 1911). Fannie was at home baking pies with their two youngest kids (Velma 18 mos and Vera 2 yrs ). At the time of the attack, my great grandfather and their two sons (Bryce and Paul) were on the way to/from the train station to pick up Fannie's mother, who'd missed the train. I am trying to learn more about Mr. Lee and his family as well as my own.  

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Top notch history on a relevant subject. The author weaves extra-legal executions with the changing media technology developing at the same time. While lynchings began to peak after the Civil War, the camera and movies were first developing as public media.
In the chapter, Religion, Wood mentions that some recent scholars have associated lynchings with expiation of sin, analogous, in a roughshod way, with the crucifixion of Christ. But, as she points out, most of those attendant at lynchings probably did not see this perspective. Rather, they were out to (a) bring about quick revenge and (b) in this manner attempt to prevent further crime. But the man hanged may have not committed a crime, in some cases.
Although Wood does not go into the psychoanalytic angle much, she does mention citations of psycho-sexual sadism, and its opposite, masochism, in a projected sense. But she doubts that any of the perpetrators of lynchings thought much about this, although they patently claimed to be protecting their females.
Wood also notes the similarity between men hunting animals and hunting alleged criminals. This is in the next chapter on Photography. Here, she cites Susan Sontag's observation that taking a photography, or a "shot," is "sublimated murder." There's a lot of room for understanding and reflection just in these chapters, but the whole book is full of them. Highly recommended.



Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2011)

Amy Louise Wood is associate professor of history at Illinois State University.

Bibliographic information