From the late 1600s to the mid-1860s, slavery was legal and an inherent part of American society. The largest concentration of enslaved people worked the cotton plantations for Southern landowners. Every slave was treated like property, disrespected, and abused. They had no access to healthcare, education and no civil rights. However, they were also extremely indispensable; the masters depended on them for survival. Slaves were necessary to work the farms, or else the economy of the American South would have collapsed. The white man's economic dependence on the slaves, on top of feeling morally superior, might have caused their violent treatment.
In 1865, the Civil War ended, and slavery was abolished. America's Reconstruction period, or the decade that followed the war, saw many free blacks and formerly enslaved people enjoying the protection of their civil rights thanks to several federal laws. But this idyllic time ended abruptly when towards the mid-1870s, the decline of the Southern economy pressed politicians to use terrorist-inspired, violent intimidation methods to keep the black population in line. These methods included regular beatings, harassment and the enactment of various "Jim Crow" or segregation laws in most Southern states. These laws erased any economic and political gains that African Americans enjoyed during Reconstruction. The name "Jim Crow" was also highly derogatory, dating back to an 1820s theater caricature of slaves.
Almost a century of systemic racism followed, with legally free black Americans oppressed on purpose. From the 1880s to the mid-1960s, segregation characterized the American South, with whites-only schools, hospitals, facilities and services, job discrimination at every level and even in housing or city zoning regulations.
From the 1880s to the 1930s, lynchings were common, taking the lives of over 6,000 African Americans, primarily men falsely accused of murder, rape and abuse of white women and even for having different beliefs. Lynchings were public spectacles, with crowds gathering to watch from all over the state. Women and children often participated, and victims were beaten, strung up and hung off trees. The 1899 murder of black American Sam Hose was particularly violent, with people dousing him in oil, cutting off his facial features, fingers and genitals.
Trying to make sense of why many ordinary men, women and children participated in lynchings is difficult and, for many, understandably impossible. Southerners acted on generations of psychological and sociological beliefs and brainwashing, claiming lynching protected them from "black aggression" and defended the "natural god-given racial order of the world." They believed that "the entire race was destitute of character" and that it was necessary to "terrorize and restrain the lawless element in the Negro population."
These beliefs were magnified when they lost the Civil War, creating a false sense of victimhood, defeat, and fear, leading to an extremely flawed and wrong sense of "justified" violence.
The unfortunate and horrible legacy of Jim Crow and lynching sadly carries on, with many black Americans feeling oppressed and disenfranchised, as the challenges of racism still live on in the United States today.
Directed by: Lewis Waller