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Re: Research trip: Halifax County, NC


re: Halifax lynching

I have been tallying and researching lynchings in NC, since 1998. I was surprised to see your reference to a 1903 lynching in Halifax, as it was not on my list. I poked around the references you pointed to today (in the library at UNC-CH), and read the articles mentioned. I can see why this was disturbing news.

I wanted to say a few things concerning such events:

- Never, ever believe what the newspapers say happened. Of the 156 lynchings since the end of the Civil War that I have documented in NC, I have dug deeply into the facts surrounding several dozen of them. In almost every case, there was significant evidence from sources beyond the mainstream and local newspapers (personal accounts, oral history, etc.) which indicated there was much more to the story than the papers reported, and that what they reported was quite often outright fabrication. The papers reported what the whites in power in the community wanted reported. As many of those same whites were often involved in the lynching, or had close relatives/friends who were, the story they told presented the lynchers in the best light, and invariably condemned the 'obviously guilty' 'black brute' as having got his just deserts.

- In many of the lynchings I have dug deeply into, there is significant evidence that the lynching victim was innocent of the crimes he was accused of. Any black man unfortunate enough to be nearby when the crime ocurred was often automatically assumed to be guilty of it. This can be very convenient for the person who was actually guilty of the crime - just blame the nearest black man, inflame a mob, and a quick and dirty lynching puts the matter to rest - no need to fear the arrest/trial of the real murderer. I have seen many cases where the sheriff and jailer did their jobs and averted a lynching by strong defense of the prisoner, after which the proposed 'lynchee' was ultimately acquitted by a jury. If all the lynchings which did occur had been prevented, there's no saying how many of the victims would have been found innocent.

Even if they were guilty of the crime they were accused of, those lynched still deserved a trial. As all accused parties in this country are to be presumed innocent until PROVEN guilty in a court of law, in my view all lynched persons must be presumed innocent.

Knowing all this of course does little to ease the pain of the families involved. The 'guilt by association' suffered by family members often echoed through generations, in small towns where everyone knows your name, and is all too willing to assign shame. It's not hard to understand why someone could be driven to change their name in these circumstances (particularly since that name was likely assigned them by association with a former slave owner in the first place).

One of the goals of my research is to shed as much light as possible on these events, to provide some measure of 'retrospective justice' to those who never received any when they needed it most. If I uncover any more details regarding this lynching, I will post them here.

Neil S.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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