2005 October 25 Tuesday
Lynching Culture Leads To High Old South Violence Today

The southeastern area of the United States has a higher rate of white violence than the northeastern United States. A couple of sociologists propose that the same cultural factors that supported lynching in days gone by also cause more violence today.

Two University of Iowa sociologists have combined historical and sociological data to arrive at a new theory explaining the disproportionate violence in the southern United States, as compared with the North. The South's legacy of lynching, they say, has contributed to a culture in which violence and taking the law into one's own hands are considered appropriate means of resolving disputes.

Matthew P. Zevenbergen, a UI graduate student in sociology, and Robert D. Baller, assistant professor of sociology, collaborated with Steven F. Messner of the University at Albany-State University of New York on what they believe to be one of the first detailed, quantitative studies focused on a historical aspect of a criminological phenomenon. The study was published in the August 2005 issue of the American Sociological Review, the leading journal for the field of sociology.

"For decades we've searched for some proxy measure of culture to explain why Southerners on average are more violent than Northerners," Zevenbergen said. He believes that history suggests a partial answer.

The authors looked at data from 10 southern states for which reliable information on the incidence and prevalence of lynching is available: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. They compared lynching rates with current statistics on homicide rates in these states, using data from the FBI and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Mapping the areas in which the rates for both historical lynching and modern-day homicide rates are highest showed a strong correlation, though not perfect overlap, they found. Subsequent statistical tests, that controlled for known covariates, supported the relationship present in the comparative maps.

"Homicide rates in the latter decades of the 20th century were very high in the Mississippi Delta. Less extreme but high rates can also be observed along a path extending from North Carolina through Georgia, the northern parts of Florida, and the southern parts of Alabama," the authors note. "Extreme lynching activity occurred in roughly the same areas."

The violence that characterized the so-called "era of lynching," roughly the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the Great Depression, created a culture of acceptance and even celebration of brutality among white people, the authors hypothesize. The same violence led to "self-help adaptations" in the black population, they suggest. Unable to rely on law enforcement for protection, black residents in the South developed various tactics to help and protect themselves and their families, often meeting violence with violence. Thus, acceptance of violence was prevalent across racial lines.

The authors theorize that these cultural attitudes and behaviors are maintained through the generations as children learn from their parents and grandparents how to respond to challenges and threats, leading to a regional culture in which violence is expected and accepted, Zevenbergen said.

"Through socialization, children in the South are raised to be more self-help oriented," he said. "They are taught to stand up to bullies and solve problems with fistfights. We posit that this behavior, which has its roots in a brutal historical era, demonstrates the impact that lynching still has on Southern culture."

Anyone think this explanation makes sense? I suspect the factors that caused the lynching culture predated it. So we are really looking at a common cause to both phenomena.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 October 25 10:39 AM  Culture Compared


Comments
Hugh Angell said at October 25, 2005 12:13 PM:

Seem silly to me. That it was two U of Iowa sociologists that came up with the 'theory'
is not so surprising I suppose. Actually the last recorded lynching in the US occurred
in California in, I believe, 1933. Two white men were taken from the San Jose jail and
hanged for kidnapping and murdering a prominent local merchant.

That is what critics of lynching often overlook. The people being lynched were not grabbed
on their way home from church. They were usually accused of very serious crimes. Rape,
child molestation, murder etc. Perhaps the sociologists might want to consider the lack
of toleration for criminals of this sort in the South as the reason for 'lynching'. As to
murder rates they are most directly related to the number of negroes in a community. The
"Mississippi Delta" being a heavily black area that the murder rate is high is not so
surprising. Its high in South Africa, Jamaica and Brazil too and they have no history of
'lynching'.

Steve Sailer said at October 25, 2005 12:23 PM:

Are we so sure the Southeast has a particularly high rate of white violence? When I looked at imprisonment statistics from 1997 by race (with Hispanics broken out separately), the highest white imprisonment rates were found in old Wild, Wild West states: Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Alaska.
http://www.vdare.com/sailer/050213_mapping.htm

In general, the "Albion's Seed" four part model seems the best for explaining behavioral differences among WASPs. So, the question is not why the southern tier has higher rates of violence among white Protestants than the northern tier but why the more southwestern states seem to have worse rates than the southeastern states.

Bill said at October 25, 2005 2:24 PM:

"The South's legacy of lynching, they say, has contributed to a culture in which violence and taking the law into one's own hands are considered appropriate means of resolving disputes."

It's often been said here in Texas that, "Your Honor, he needed killin'" is a valid legal defense.

mariana said at October 25, 2005 2:30 PM:

I wish I had my copy of Pinker's The Blank Slate with me. He addresses the roots of Southern culture in one little bit. I'd post the relevant section from his book if I had it with me. Just go to the index and look up "South" or "southern" and it mentions about the roots of the culture. It's not a long section, just a couple paragraphs featuring some interesting studies.

ziel said at October 25, 2005 4:25 PM:

Just who were the lynchers, anyway (in Albion's Seed terms)? My assumption is they were the descendants of the lower class groups that came along with the Cavaliers (Crackers) rather than the Scots-Irish who settled the hills (hillbillies). My guess is also that the higher crime in the Old West is Scots-Irish driven, and thus not related to the lynching-types.

seelow heights said at October 25, 2005 6:28 PM:

the highest white imprisonment rates were found in old Wild, Wild West states: Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Alaska.
-Steve Sailer
Alaska part of the "old Wild,Wild West"? I think you meant that Alaska's image as "the last frontier" tends to attract wild and woolly psychological types among the white population.

razib said at October 25, 2005 6:30 PM:

i read a book about the violent abolitionist john brown recently, and the author notes that one reason brown was a hero for some northerners is that he showed that northerners could be tought and violent too. his acts of violence in kansas electrified many northerners because it showed that they could fight back. but if you look at the data, most of the violence was still southern on northern (white on white).

seelow heights said at October 25, 2005 6:37 PM:

Actually the last recorded lynching in the US occurred
in California in, I believe, 1933. Two white men were taken from the San Jose jail and
hanged for kidnapping and murdering a prominent local merchant.

-Hugh Angell
I guess it depends on how you define lynching. The Emmett Till case is called a lynching by many people. I think the problem is that lynching has been redefined to be any murder of a black by a group of whites. Thus the many cases of whites who were lynched during lynching's heyday have been thrown down the memory hole.

Mike Patton said at October 25, 2005 7:27 PM:

So true, Seelow Heights. Please read Chistopher Waldrep, _The Many Faces of Judge Lynch: Extralegal Violence and Punishment in America_, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Chris is a history professor at Eastern Illinois university To get a sense how lynching was commandeered by the civil rights movement see this review of Waldrep's work in the H-South list:

http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-south&month=0502&week=b&msg=KdrlPSY7PTQdOk3gclCe1g&user=&pw=

As Waldrep explains, "lynching" was not particularly racial, and was conducted against whites by whites for many years. In the first half of the 20th Century, it was commandeered by civil rights activists and redefined about 1940 to be a racial act. The people forgot the earlier acts of lynching (out West and in the goldfields where formal justice was nonexistent) and accepted the new definition.

The redefinition from (1) summary justice by the community in the absence of effective law to (2) white on black killings, was so complete by the latter half of the 20th Century that a 1957 New Hampshire killing of a white man for abusing his hired hand by a mob of NH folks is forgotten: wrong racial victim and not in the South ergo, not a lynching.

Historical records show much more lynching than one might imagine if one limits oneself (as the Iowans apparently do) to race lynchings from 1880 to 1930. Lynching goes back to Revolutionary War times.

Given the general acceptance of lynching acoss the USA and its significant white-on-white roots I think the authors engage in a little too much "noble savage corrupted by evil white folk" mythologizing.

Hugh Angell said at October 26, 2005 3:19 AM:

Seelow Heights, I would not call the murder of Emmett Till a lynching. First of all it was
not a 'mob' that came for Mr. Till and Mr. Till was accused of no crime. It might be more
properly called an act of domestic violence. Wife is insulted by youth, husband and brother
in law go and exact revenge. Regrettable but not at all rare. How many jealous husbands
and boyfriends are convicted of murder every year in the US and for killings every bit as
savage as Emmett Tills death. What made this case special was that the mother made it into
a cause celebre in Chicago.

Then there are the Muslim 'honor' killings which happen far more frequently in America
than what you might imagine given the non coverage of them by the press. You won't see
them featured on Nancy Grace or Rita Cosby's female murder du jour shows. The reason is
that there is no great desire to stir up anti Muslim sentiment in the US by the media
today unlike the very great desire to pummel white southerners with hostility and outrage
over a 50 year old murder.

Mike Patton said at October 26, 2005 8:59 AM:

Hugh puts is finger on the major problem: definition. As a portion of the review of Waldrep's article shows, "lynching" is quite malleable. By defining lynching to be a white-only crime, one can always "scientifically" find and analyze its white-only proximate cause.

Here is the four element 1940 NAACP/civil rights movement definition of lynching: (1) a person (2) must be illegally killed (3) by a group of two or more people (4) for reasons relating to justice, race, or tradition.

It should be obvious that this definition covers a huge number of murders. For example, there are some 600 murders a year in LA, many of which are gang murdrs, and many of which are two-or-more-on-one. A typical example is a drive-by shooting or gang attack by Hispanics against blacks in South Central LA for invading/violating their turf. Another example is the reciprocal black response.

Many if not most of the deaths in South Central LA, being gang planned and executed for reasons of ethnic justice/race/tradition (face, turf, etc.) are NAACP "lynchings".

Of course, the NAACP was modern and not post-modern back in 1940, so their definition was race-neutral. In post-modern critical race studies, however, race is implicitly or explicitly an element of "lynching" (e.g. only whites can be racists). The actual NAACP definition of "lynching" for 2005 if codified would likely add this new element: "where the perpetrators are non-Hispanic whites". This would certainly explain why the NAACP (and, I suspect, the Iowa authors) have failed to identify the black-on-Hispanic-on-black lynchings (gang banging) in LA as "lynchings". It would also explain why the Iowa authors find the proximate cause in white culture. How could it be otherwise for a crime with white-only perpetrators ?

See a discussion of the definitional problems of lynching in the following review of WALDREP:

http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-south&month=0502&week=b&msg=KdrlPSY7PTQdOk3gclCe1g&user=&pw=

To give you some sense of the definitional difficulties, here is a quote from the review of WALDREP:

During the early-twentieth century, a division erupted among civil
rights activists over the definition of lynching.

One camp was led by
Jessie Daniel Ames and Monroe Work of Tuskegee. They wanted a narrow
definition of lynching. This would help them achieve their goal of a
"lynch-free year." This was politically important because such a year
would make lynching seem like a thing of the past and thus undermine the
community support necessary for lynching in the first place.

The second camp was led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People. They did not believe that southern racism could be easily
eliminated. They argued that the goal of a lynch-free year would lead
observers to conclude mistakenly that the south had reformed itself.
Thus, they favored a broad definition of lynching that included, for
example, murders committed by small committees in the dead of night and
killings carried out by posses containing law officers
. A summit
conference was held at Tuskegee in 1940 to iron out these differences
and agree on a definition of lynching. The conference did not agree on a
precise definition but did agree on four things. First, there must be a
dead body. Second, the killing must have been illegal. Third, the
murderers must have constituted a group (though size of group was not
specified). Fourth, the murder had to have been committed under the
"pretext of service to justice, race, or tradition." The NAACP approved
of this broad construction, though it proved hard to use in practice.

Jessie Daniel Ames rejected the definition. Scholars of lynching adopted
it in later years, but Waldrep concludes that there can be no true
definition of lynching.
Newspaper editors and correspondents imposed
their own ideas about lynching, rendering any attempt by scholars to
consistently distinguish murders from lynchings impossible.

John S Bolton said at October 26, 2005 7:47 PM:

A genetic difference between the different white populations, as those between the more and less malaria adapted should be open for investigation also. Malaria adaptation changes the blood, making it cause more pain as it flows, through the brain in particular. This can lower the threshold of violence, as can the lower IQ associated with malaria adaptedness. The areas settled mainly from the southern ports may have white populations with good representation of such types.

seelow heights said at October 26, 2005 9:58 PM:

Hugh Angell,
I think the definitional battle has been lost. A google search for emmett till +lynching comes up with 47,100 hits. I think anyone who came out publicly and called the Till case one of "domestic violence" instead of lynching would be driven from public life. In fairness to the new definition I don't think a 14-year old white boy who committed the same act would have met so severe a fate.

Venomous said at October 27, 2005 1:28 AM:

I wonder if there a common denominator between the topic at hand and fact that the Revolutionary War was essentially won in the South through a combination of conventional and unconventional warfare.

Hugh Angell said at October 27, 2005 6:41 AM:

Seelow,

Saying that a white youth who insulted a man's wife in 1955 Mississippi wouldn't have
been killed may be accurate, though one can't be sure. I would suggest that there are
places and neighborhoods today where a white youth would be killed were he to 'disrespect'
someone's wife or daughter. If you have a teen age son I would make sure, were you to
visit a Muslim country or neighborhood that he understand 'coming on' to the local girls
can be lethal. Emmett Till might not have deserved to be killed by our standards but he
wasn't in a situation where our standards applied. He was in 1955 Mississippi. Very
different time and place, more like Birmingham England or Pakistan today than 21st Century
America.

Bob Badour said at October 27, 2005 7:14 AM:

Hugh,

That's interesting. It seems you are saying the 1950's white culture of the southeast was like muslim culture today. I suppose I can see some similarities: greater tribalism, less trust of authority, both are defeated cultures.

Perhaps the remnants of these similarities today account for the criminality the researchers examined?

Arcane said at October 27, 2005 1:48 PM:

The violence that characterized the so-called "era of lynching," roughly the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the Great Depression, created a culture of acceptance and even celebration of brutality among white people, the authors hypothesize. The same violence led to "self-help adaptations" in the black population, they suggest. Unable to rely on law enforcement for protection, black residents in the South developed various tactics to help and protect themselves and their families, often meeting violence with violence. Thus, acceptance of violence was prevalent across racial lines.

This is absurd, to say it lightly. What this ultimately amounts to is an attempt to "blame whitey" for supposedly bringing about a culture of violence amongst an otherwise peaceful non-white people. This has been the mantra of anti-colonialists and enemies of the West for decades, so it is not surprising to see some mission creep concerning this pattern of thought [or rather, pattern of shifting blame].

Susan said at November 1, 2005 11:50 AM:

Pardon me for defending my geographic locale and its citizens, but I find these assertions to be very generalized and non-specific. It is a fact that blacks are incarcerated for violent crimes at a rate much higher than whites. Presumably this is because they actually commit more crimes because even here in the South, the days of blatant racial discrimination have long passed.

If blacks are the predominate "violent" offenders, should one assume that they are belatedly reacting to the lynch-mobs of yesteryear? Did the researchers take race and socio-economic circumstances into account when compiling their rather irrelevant research? It seems that some people still view the South with hackneyed, stereotypical attitudes and those who have never been here are the most egregious critics of a place and people they do not know the first thing about.

Most violent crimes in my area, the second largest metropolitan area in Georgia, are committed by blacks. However, blacks outnumber whites here so that must be taken into consideration. Someone suggested that people in the south teach their children to respond to aggression with aggression and that may be true for some, but certainly not all. All schools have a zero tolerance for violent behavior even if it is in self-defense, so it would be counterproductive to teach a child to hit back, which would result in automatic expulsion. I do think people here are more self-sufficient and abhorrent of big government. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. I neither expect nor want anything from the federal government. I would sooner starve and die under a bridge than ask for welfare, food stamps, or subsidized housing even though my tax dollars are used to support many lazy, undisciplined bums who are poor because they want to be.


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