On these pages you will meet Monroe Nathan Work, who lived from 1866 – 1945. This website is a rebirth of one piece of his work, although he did many great things. In his career, he felt compelled to document every known lynching that was happening in the United States. You might already be familiar with what lynching is, and this website will examine it more. Of course, it starts with an act of injustice: by sentencing someone outside the law with no process or trial. Even worse, at the turn of the century the methods of lynching had become commonplace, fueled by hatred — and unspeakably cruel. It was Mr. Work's meticulous recordkeeping that preserves the names that are now an important part of our history.
Before this website, it was impossible to search the web and find an accurate scope of the history of American lynching. The names have always been kept safe, but distant, in old archives and scholarly books and dissertations. This site leaves the record open for all Americans, especially high school students who want to learn more than what their textbook has to say.
You will learn how lynching began as a form of self-appointed justice in local communities in the 1800s, when townspeople made grave accusations first, but never bothered to gather the proof. Then as the 1870s turned into the ’80s and onward, lynching became adopted as a terrorist tactic by white supremacists. When slavery was abolished, and as settlers continued to arrive on the West coast, there were very real crusades to change the United States to a place only for whites. [See quotes: 1 , 2 , 3 ] It was an idea treated with honor in every state legislature and every city office. Those leaders encouraged people to carry that idea onto the streets.
When this country belonged to the thriftless and indifferent Mexican, these hills and valleys lavished upon the desert air their wealth and beauty. It remained for the indomitable and thorough-going Anglo-Saxon race to bring forth the mineral and agricultural wealth of this beautiful and valuable country.
—author Luther M. Schaeffer, published 1860 (quoted in Carrigan & Webb p53)
THE MEXICAN QUESTION.
Anarchy and bloodshed are the only fruits of Mexican attempts at self government. Bad Mexicans never tire of cutting throats, and we are sorry to be compelled to say that good Mexicans are rather scarce; yet there are some of this kind[…] and the southern portion of this Territory is now darkened and threatened by gruff-looking greasers from Sonora….
DEAR GOVERNOR: Fuit Ilium [‘Troy is no more’]. The Chinese are no more in Tacoma, and the trouble over them is virtually at an end. Yesterday they were peaceably escorted out of town and put upon the freight and passenger trains this morning.[…]
The 25 or 30 Chinamen who were permitted to remain a day for purposes of packing and shipping store-goods will leave to-morrow morning; then Tacoma will be sans Chinese, sans pigtails, sans moon-eye, sans wash-house, sans joss-house, sans everything Mongolian[…]. Those who predicted differently … greatly underrated the intelligence, character, and resolution of the men who worked up the movement, and who were flippantly called a "rabble" by their moral and intellectual inferiors.
—letter from John Arthur, 4 Nov 1885
sent to Watson C. Squire, Governor of Washington Territory
God made the white into man, and implanted within his breast that determination to always be supreme among races of men. This is why the white man of the South, standing out boldly tells civilization: ‘I am a white man! I will rule!’ Were he to do otherwise he would be a renegade to his race.
—Okaloosa News Journal, 29 Oct 1920
Ultimately their crusades failed to win, but they took the lives of many, many people... some 4800 are named on this site. Their idea that "some races are less important" still takes the lives of people today.
This is an update of Monroe Work's legacy using modern tools to list again every known lynching, including what has been clarified or newly uncovered in contemporary research. Each record here has a footnote inviting you to investigate for yourself.
His scholarly activism spanned 1900 to 1938, most notably as the Director of Records at the Tuskegee Institute.
Monroe Nathan Work was born in 1866 in Iredell County, NC, to parents who were farmers and former slaves. His father moved them to Illinois and then onto their own farm in Sumner County, Kansas. Monroe had opportunities to pursue his career: graduating high school in Arkansas City, then a pastor in Wellington, then a farmer in Oklahoma. Faced with racism in the late 1890s, he was denied a teaching job. So made his way to Chicago to pursue his own educational dream.
He enrolled in the department of sociology at the University of Chicago in 1898. At the university, Monroe developed a faith that the power of education could fight back against racism:
Monroe loved sociology for its search of the facts. In sociology he could demonstrate how African Americans actually lived, apart from racist stereotypes. For example later he would compose his work "A Half Century of Progress" to contrast 1922 from 1866. Despite enduring slavery and violence, black people had increased literacy by 70% and vastly improved in economic terms: the number of homes owned by black people grew from 12 000 to 650 000; their accumulated wealth increased 75X from $20 million dollars to $1.5 billion.
Yet despite the early progress of Reconstruction, by the year 1900 race relations were deteriorating: segregation laws had just begun in the South, as well as riots and violence in the North. In 1903 Monroe moved to Savannah, Georgia to teach. He became a friendly acquaintance with the activist W.E.B. Du Bois and even attended the founding conference of the Niagara Movement in upstate New York. This made him one of the few people to work with both Du Bois and (the more conservative) leader Booker Washington. Work never rejected protest as a useful tactic, but ultimately he decided not to let the movement of protest divert the efforts he could make as a sociologist.
While he was living in Savannah, he experienced his city passing its very first segregation law in 1906 which suddenly stripped him of basic rights he held only the day before. Monroe had come to understand it was tangled educational + economic + political conditions that conspired to hold black people at the bottom.
Monroe met his wife Florence, a school teacher, in Savannah and married in 1904. She aided his research and read materials for him in advance, marking those that Monroe needed to see. Neighbors remembered seeing the pair of them reading at night by lamp. In 41 years of marriage, it was her support that allowed him to devote his life to his career.
So in his tenure at Tuskegee Institute starting in 1908, Monroe built a Department of Records that collected research—but not just on lynching. He also compiled data on the discriminatory bias in public expenditures, new statistics on black economic achievement, as well as a large compilation of sources on African life and culture.
He was also a passionate advocate to improve black people's health. In 1913, life expectancy of African-Americans was just 35 years. He advanced the first National Negro Health Week in 1915 and did not stop until it received sponsorship in 1922 by the US government, and finally expanded (in 1930) to a year-round program of all state health departments.
ATTRIBUTIONS ON THIS PAGE:
Cover photograph of Monroe Nathan Work is in the public domain, from "Social Progress" in Opportunity: a Journal of Negro Life, 1925.
Photo of farmland in Illinois by Russell Lee is in the public domain, from the Library of Congress (LC-USF341- 010432-B).
Photo of the University of Chicago convocation in July 1894 is in the public domain, from University of Chicago Library Special Collections Research Center (apf3-00416).
Photo of Tuskegee Institute Thompkins Hall from 1918 is by Richards Film Service is in the public domain, from the Library of Congress (2007662519).
Other photos are in the public domain. Note that each photo has been retouched from the original for artistic effect.
Puzzle-piece icons are the creative work of [joe.pictos] and map icon is by [Alexandr Cherkinsky], each licensed from the Noun project.