Part II – evaluate the information

When you are presented with new information, it is important to take time to understand the source it comes from. Ask questions: What biases might be coming from that source? Can you trust it?

1. Can you find the name of the company who published MonroeWorkToday?

Visit the website of that publisher. From their company website, assess if you see any viewpoints: what values do they seem to support? Would these values affect the way they tell a story?

2. Is there bias from Mr. Work who was counting the lynchings?

Recall from Part I that Monroe Work started his own data from Tuskegee, Alabama because he did not want it to carry a Northerner's tendency to scorn the South. He wanted to make a case based on "the facts." Also, remember that he was quiet and worked behind the scenes. He did not participate in protests, he was considered somewhat conservative compared to the activists of the time. Are there any other inclinations he might have held?

After you reflect, does it slightly strengthen your trust in the information, or weaken it? This question has no definite answer— you can only determine it for yourself. This step is not the same thing as whether you agree with the article, it is about whether the information is valid. (You should always do this with anything you read online.) However, some questions about the information do have an answer:

Where did the data for these deaths come from? What is the source?
The map has some regions that are shaded, but not along state lines. Why?
What is the difference between the ‘‘lynchings’’ and ‘‘mob violence’’ on this map?
The border of my county appears wrong on this map. How could that be?
Italians are marked separately... as victims of white supremacy? Why?
Where did the data for these deaths come from?

We will never have a perfect list of all people who met their death by lynching in the US. It is not because they were secret — in fact, they were done out in the open. But some are barely recorded: it was considered a local affair, and not always reported in a newspaper. Or they occurred in towns too small to have a newspaper... or too long ago. Even the best lynching research is only a reconstruction of historical events and the community motivation behind the murders.

This is a map of those lynchings and deadly mob violence which were directed against people of color — which represents a hugely disproportionate part of such violence. The evolution of this form of violence, which also was used to attack white suspects of certain crimes, is discussed earlier in Part I of the lesson.

This map uses a new database created in 2014 – 2016 called the MonroeWorkToday Dataset Compilation (version 1). It contains nearly 5700 possible victims of lynchings, near-lynchings, mistaken cases, and racialized mob violence by the defenders of white supremacy. Not all of them are shown here. Of these 5700, this website made the decision to display 4184 lynchings and 612 additional victims of mob violence which are the most certain cases.

The database was born in the public library. It was compiled by auut studio after more than three years of careful work comparing the original records of Monroe Work preserved at the Tuskegee University Archives, against all of the research that has been written by modern-day scholars about lynching and race riots. Every person in the database has a citation to one or more supporting sources. You can learn about the way decisions were made in the bibliography.


But this map has 7 important caveats to know:

Important considerations for this map:

There are 7 limitations that the publisher of this map (auut studio) has stated:

1. This map does not show every lynching there ever was.

Some victims were not displayed in this map because there is some doubt about them based on the available information. Most of the lynchings identified by Monroe Work in the early 1900s have been verified by scholars of today. However some lynchings that he counted could not be documented by scholars quite so easily, so this leaves doubt on those particular ones. On this website, 409 more deaths have been omitted (they do not appear on the map) in order to be the most conservative and cautious about this doubt. Many people can rightfully disagree and desire to include these 409 cases. Some researchers continue to investigate these.

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2. The points on these maps are not in their exact locations. This was done on purpose.

Sometimes the deaths are mentioned in history in the town where it happened. Or sometimes we know it happened on the outskirts of town, or the person was dragged to a far location many miles from town. Other times, we can only know the state county where it occurred. Thus, it is not fair to assume from records that any point is at precisely its accurate location as if we could zoom-in on it from Google Maps. In order to recognize that these locations are always an estimation, the points on this map were placed simply in the center of each county where it occurred.

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3. This is a map ONLY of the people who were killed.

In hundreds of cases there was an attempt to lynch a person in jail, but the police stopped the mob. Or sometimes the accused person was injured but able to run away. Also in the US there have been many other white supremacy riots where their victims were injured or hospitalized, but no one was killed. One example of this was the 1907 Bellingham Riots in Washington state which targeted over 500 South Asian people.

There were also cases when the victim had a mockery of "trial" in a real court, which lasted only a few minutes before the jury decided and the mob dragged him out to administer the hanging. It would be impossible to consider that a fair judgement today. But historians consider those cases to be legal capital punishment sentenced by the court, not as a lynching.

Also in the Far West, the method to terrorize Chinese people was mostly by burning down the entire neighborhood to ruin their livelihoods and cause the residents to flee forever. Yet, no one was killed. These incidents do not appear on the map.

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4. The data for these lynchings were stitched together from multiple scholarly books.

Remember that different researchers did not always use the same methods to uncover lynchings, so not every death in the newspapers was evaluated consistently by the same person. Even back in the 1900s some states used a different definition of lynching. One example is North Carolina, where officials reported an act of lynching only if a person was physically seized from the jailhouse before being killed by a mob. Yet if the mob grabbed a suspect from their home (or off the street), then North Carolina's government did not want to count it as a lynching. Most other states counted both kinds. Ever since since Monroe Work's time, activists have been arguing passionately with each other about the criteria for lynchings.

As a result, this means you cannot accurately compare one state against another using this map. The purpose of this map is to remember every name we can, not to rank the states.

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5. This map shows an incomplete picture before the year 1882.

Along with The Chicago Tribune, Monroe Work started his counting from events in the year 1882. Now we know other lynchings occurred earlier than this, but modern scholars have not yet uncovered all earlier cases for all 50 states. Only in some states does research exist for the period before 1881. At this time (in 2016), the most well-documented state is Missouri, which has been investigated all the way back to 1803.

Therefore on this website you will find early lynchings only in the following places:

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6. The act of lynching is just one form of violence which was used against people of color. Do not mistake this map for the whole story.

There are many forms of racist violence, like harassment and intimidation, brutality, sudden killing sprees that are called race riots, seizing someone's property, banishing people at gunpoint, or the grave threat of death posted as warning signs throughout sundown towns in the North. Incidents like this do not appear on the map.

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7. For all of the reasons mentioned above, it is wrong to use this map to decide that some places suffered "more racism" than others. DO NOT jump into this faulty conclusion.

Be careful to draw responsible conclusions as you use this map. Remember that the pixels on your screen represent real human beings, flawed or not. Respect the complexity of the stories they contain.

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(more questions)

What are the shaded regions on the map?

It is traditional to focus on state borders in the counting of lynching violence: to give one tally for Texas, or Alabama, or Georgia, or Maryland, etc.

This map chose instead to delineate the major distinct "cultural nations" in the United States as conceived by author Colin Woodard in his book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. He argues that these regions have more in common with themselves, separately. This is because each region has a fairly dominant culture which is rooted in the original founders of those areas. Those first settlers in different parts of the US arrived from very different societies — and brought their own values with them about what rules should govern a society.

Mr. Woodard explained more details in a short article you can read in the Washington Post.

Some of these American Nations are not labelled on the MonroeWorkToday map, for purposes of simplicity. A few have been renamed to make them more self-descriptive to a wider audience.

By presenting a subdivision of the USA that is unfamiliar to most people, MonroeWorkToday hopes to prompt a new way of thinking about the geography of lynching. Lynching is too often assumed to be a problem from Southern states unilaterally. Also, if you limit your search up until reaching a state border, then you will ignore the very same violence that occurred in a similar community on the other side of the line, just a few miles away.

(more questions)

What is the difference between the lynchings and ‘‘mob violence’’?

Remember from Part I that the word lynching has changed definitions over time. During the era on this map, lynching included a sense of justification and "justice" by the perpetrators, who acted as if they were serving the will of the entire community. In their worldview, this made them different from murderers. Everyone involved in the mob expected there would be no consequences for their action.

Because they were confident of impunity, and filled with the rage of hatred, lynch mobs could grow gruesome in their work. As the author Leon Latwick noted in his essay Hellhounds, "the story of lynching, then, is more than the simple fact of a black man or woman hanged by the neck. It is the story of a slow, methodical, sadistic, often highly inventive forms of torture and mutiliation."

This led activists in the 1900s to debate which murders should count as lynchings. As one example, Monroe Work maintained a conservative definition that led him to not always count as many lynchings as other sources.

Two scenarios could arise in which the lines got blurred: 1. One, when the person was picked randomly —just the closest victim the mob could find— yet murdered without the pretext of serving justice for the town. (Today we refer to these cases with a new word: hate crimes.)

2. A second scenario involved violence on a large-scale: when mobs rose up in fury or seething tensions exploded against an entire racial group. Those perpetrators did not claim to be agents of justice, yet deliberately organized a homicidal spree to enforce the tradition of white superiority. Sometimes victims caught by such a mob were viciously hanged in a matter of minutes, dismembered, or shot to the point of mutilation.

So in his book American Lynching, the author Ashraf Rushdy raises a hard question about semantics:

p. 16

"What does it mean then when what looks by all accounts like a traditional lynching, by any of the accepted definitions, is discounted because it occurred in an urban space during a spree of mob violence...? ... [T]he definitions historically and still used by scholars of lynchings are problematic to the extent that they exclude events that should be included, and they do so because they draw on the most iconic lynching scenario ... and then define anything earlier, later, or other form of collective violence as something else."

The maps on this website preserve the possibility of this gray area: cases of mob violence are included, even at times when Monroe Work would not have counted them "lynching." However, these are marked with a different symbol on an alternate map so that you may make your own decision.

marks a victim of lynching
marks mob violence or a race riot

(more questions)

Why does the border of my local county appear wrong?

This website attempts to take you back and imagine the United States from a historical time. So this map recreates the boundaries of the US interior as of 100 years ago, and the counties drawn on the land are the ones that existed in the year 1916. The borders of Native American nations, reservations and agencies (and the lands recently opened from them) are also shown from that decade.

Over time, counties evolved their borders as the state legislatures adjusted them to areas which became more densely populated. This is especially true in the Far West, where the original counties were huge blocks of land from settlement times.

(more questions)

Why are Italians are marked separately?

Italians who immigrated to the U.S. after the Civil War, and southern Italians in particular, often had a dark complexion and shiny black hair. Many Anglo-Saxons questioned their membership in the "white race." As a group, they often experienced suspicion or discrimination from their white neighbors (who were people who immigrated in the US in earlier times). On this basis, the federal Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of southern and eastern Europeans who could migrate to the United States.

Italians, like all immigrants, sought a better life in the American economic experiment. Some settled in the North to work in factories and mills. Others arrived in the Deep South, where jobs in plantation farming could pay relatively well. One large population was established in Louisiana where they worked on sugar plantations that lined the Mississippi River. White Louisianans, like white people elsewhere, still held stereotypes for people from southern Europe: they were seen as "dirty", criminal, and inferior to people with a heritage from France, Germany, and Anglo-Saxon culture.

So Italians, like black Americans, often remained very low in social and economic standing. White society had a specific vulgar slur for each of these groups, to dehumanize them and treat them with disgust.

(more questions)