Respect Equality

There have been more than 6,400 lynchings since the end of the Civil War, new study reveals

Marchers leave a demonstration at a tree where authorities say Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old black man, was found dead, hanging from a tree, near Palmdale City Hall.
Marchers leave a demonstration at a tree where authorities say Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old black man, was found dead, hanging from a tree, near Palmdale City Hall in California. 

Story at a glance

  • A new report studying the Reconstruction era of the United States details thousands of lynchings that hadn’t been studied before.
  • Black people were lynched at nearly three times the rate during Reconstruction as in the following decade.
  • The report comes as Americans protest police brutality and demand racial equality.

As federal authorities investigate the hanging deaths of two black men this month, a new report found nearly 2,000 lynchings of black people by white mobs in America that hadn’t been previously detailed. 

The Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) report, “Reconstruction in America,” studied the 12-year period of Reconstruction after the Civil War and found that the rate of “racial terror lynchings” was nearly three times as much as it would be in the next fifty years. 

In 2015, the EJI reported more than 4,400 documented lynchings of black people between 1877 and 1950 — an average of 60 lynchings each year. During Reconstruction, there were more than 160 lynchings each year on average, a total of 2,000 from 1865 to 1876. There have been more than 6,400 lynchings since the end of the Civil War, not including those that occurred after 1950. 


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Bryan Stevenson, director of the EJI, said the timing of the report was significant, as protesters continue to demand racial justice and equality after the death of George Floyd. 

“We believe our nation has failed to adequately address or acknowledge our history of racial injustice and that we must commit to a new era of truth-telling followed by meaningful efforts to repair and remedy the continuing legacy of racial oppression,” Stevensen wrote in the report’s introduction. 

Hundreds of these lynchings, however, happened at the same time. The report documents 34 mass lynchings during the Reconstruction era, including an estimated 200 black people killed over several days in September 1868 after attempting to participate in the political process in Opelousas, La. 


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The report details the aftermath of the emancipation of millions of black people, from the fight for political and economic realization to the violent backlash from white America. 

“If Reconstruction has been a largely under-studied period of American history, the racial terror that Black people suffered during Reconstruction is nearly absent from public memory,” the report concludes.

The rate of lynchings fell as time went on, though the killings continued into the 1980s. The lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, Ala., on March 21, 1981 is often reported as one of the last lynchings in the United States, but others may have gone unreported. 

So when the bodies of 24-year-old Robert Fuller and 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch were found hanging from trees in California within weeks of one another, the terror such killings are meant to evoke struck black Americans across the country. Local authorities initially said the deaths were suicides, but police are still investigating both cases. 


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