American Lynching

Ashraf H. A. Rushdy

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February 25, 2014
240 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300205879
Paper

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A history of lynching in America over the course of three centuries, from colonial Virginia to twentieth-century Texas

After observing the varying reactions to the 1998 death of James Byrd Jr. in Texas, called a lynching by some, denied by others, Ashraf Rushdy determined that to comprehend this event he needed to understand the long history of lynching in the United States. In thismeticulously researched and accessibly written interpretive history, Rushdy shows how lynching in America has endured, evolved, and changed in meaning over the course of three centuries, from its origins in early Virginia to the present day.

Rushdy argues that we can understand what lynching means in American history by examining its evolution—that is, by seeing how the practice changes in both form and meaning over the course of three centuries, by analyzing the rationales its advocates have made in its defense, and, finally, by explicating its origins. The best way of understanding what lynching has meant in different times, and for different populations, during the course of American history is by seeing both the continuities in the practice over time and the specific features in different forms of lynching in different eras. 

Ashraf H. A. Rushdy is Benjamin L. Waite Professor in English Language and chair of African American studies at Wesleyan University.

"A work of uncommon breadth, written with equally uncommon concision. Excellent."—N. D. B. Connolly, Johns Hopkins University

“Rushdy has written a provocative but careful, opinionated but persuasive overview of lynching in the United States. Beyond synthesizing current scholarship, he offers a cogent discussion of the evolving definition of lynching, the place of lynchers in civil society, and the slow-in-coming end of lynching. This book should be the point of entry for anyone interested in the tragic and sordid history of American lynching.”— W. Fitzhugh Brundage, author of Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930

“Ashraf H. A. Rushdy’s American Lynching is a sophisticated and thought-provoking examination of the historical relationship between the American culture of lynching and the nation’s political traditions. This engaging and wide-ranging meditation on the connection between democracy, lynching, freedom, and slavery will be of interest to those in and outside of the academy.”—William Carrigan, Rowan University

"In this sobering account, Rushdy makes clear that the cultural values that authorize racial violence are woven into the very essence of what it means to be American. This book helps us make sense of our past as well as our present."—Jonathan Holloway, Yale University

“A triumphant work on the problematic history of one of America’s longest and most troubling traditions.”

Kirkus Reviews



“A welcome and timely contribution to lynching historiography.”—Choice


Honored by The Hurston/Wright Foundation for the Legacy Award 2013 in the Nonfiction Category.