W.E.B. Du Bois


February 1, 1932

There have been this year thirteen or more persons lynched. I say thirteen “or more.” It may have been fifteen or eighteen, but I am taking the reports of Tuskegee, which are usually just below the truth. This means that once a month in the United States mobs have seized prisoners, who in every case but one were black, and have murdered them without any attempt to find out whether they were guilty or not.

When this was said in other years, it was always assumed, despite our vehement protest, that these victims were guilty and that they had raped white women. But we have this year the astonishing findings of the “Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching” issued under the title “Lynchings and What They Mean.” This committee of thirteen had a white chairman and seven other Southern white men as members, and five Negroes.

The report confirms everything that has been said against lynching by supporters of law and decency during the last twenty-five years. Namely:

Only one in every six of the persons lynched had been even accused of rape; and naturally, not all of those accused were guilty.

That white men have disguised themselves to impersonate Negroes and fasten crime upon them.

That few lynchers have been punished or even indicted.

That of the Negroes lynched, for instance, in 1930, two were innocent, not even being accused of crime; and in eleven other cases, there was grave doubt of their guilt. In the remaining five cases, while there were crimes committed, there is considerable doubt as to whether the guilty men were caught.

That in numbers of cases the members of the mob were unmasked and perfectly well-known.

That women and children were often in the mobs.

That the causes of lynching as well as of Negro crime lie in the terrible forcing of ignorance on the colored people of the South and in caste restrictions.

The report bravely concludes:

Lynching can and will be eliminated in proportion as all elements of the population are provided opportunities for development and are accorded fundamental human rights. Whether in the field of religion, education, economics, jurisprudence, or politics, anything which looks toward this end is a factor in reducing mob violence. For, fundamentally, lynching is an expression of a basic lack of respect both for human beings and for organized society.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1932. “Lynchings.” The Crisis 39 (2): 58.