An anti-lynching bill stalled in the Senate last year after Sen. Rand Paul singlehandedly kept it from passing into law.
“The last recording lynching in the United States was in 1981,” says Jill Collen Jefferson, who founded a civil rights organization named after late activist great Julian Bond. But she told The Washington Post in a haunting new report that “lynchings never stopped in the United States. Lynchings in Mississippi never stopped.”
The Post story features in-depth reporting from The Magnolia State, with Jefferson’s data at its core. The Mississippi native and activist is a graduate of Harvard Law School and was a civil justice investigator.
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She has been compiling records of lynchings in the U.S. for nearly five years, with a specific focus on Mississippi since 2019. In every case, the deaths had been ruled a suicide by law enforcement, but that claim was disputed by families of the victims.
Lynchings have been commonly thought of as public hangings. However, the NAACP defines lynchings as “the public killing of an individual who has not received” due process under the law.
According to Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, a report by the Equal Justice Initiative, there were over 4,400 “racial terror lynchings in the United States during the period between Reconstruction and World War II.” The state of Mississippi alone tallied 581.
Law enforcement entities stopped collecting the hanging-death data for decades. Jefferson is specifically investigating eight between 2000 and 2019.
“There is a pattern to how these cases are investigated,” Jefferson said. “When authorities arrive on the scene of a hanging, it’s treated as a suicide almost immediately. The crime scene is not preserved. The investigation is shoddy. And then there is a formal ruling of suicide, despite evidence to the contrary. And the case is never heard from again unless someone brings it up.”
In The Post, Jefferson details eight specific victims aged 17 to 55 who were found dead by hanging in Mississippi between June 2000 and May 2019. All eight deaths were ruled suicides, but their kin contend they were lynched. Jefferson is working with the families to get them justice.
An anti-lynching bill stalled in the Senate last year after Sen. Rand Paul singlehandedly kept it from passing into law by seeking changes to the legislation. Paul said the Emmett Till Antilynching Act — named after the 14-year-old lynched in Mississippi in 1954, a murder that was a major impetus for the modern civil rights movement — was drafted too broadly and could cause minor assaults to be defined as lynchings.
However, then-Senator Kamala Harris, a co-author of the bill with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, told NBC News at the time that “Black lives have not been taken seriously as being fully human and deserving of dignity, and it should not require a maiming or torture in order for us to recognize a lynching when we see it.”
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