The Jim Crow South Lynching Of Blacks In America Racism Or Religious Rituals

The Jim Crow South Lynching Of Blacks In America: Racism Or Religious Rituals?

It is no gainsaying that black people all over the world, have had a history of hatred, bias and violence met against them from different quarters of the world, an example of which is the Jim Crow South Lynching Of Blacks In America. From the extermination of black populations in northern Africa at the height of Arab/Muslim invasion to slavery in Europe and the Americas, colonization and forceful destruction of black cultures and civilizations, black people for millennia, up to this day continue to bear the brunt of racism.

While the statement above comes without dispute, many are left wondering why black people (albeit not alone―the American Indians faced an equal amount of violence in the form of mass genocide) had to pass through such horrendous events in history and still passing. Providing answers to this, some―such as the members of, or those with a close relationship with or apologetic to the cause of the Ku Klux Klan―note that the bias against black people is down to the “Biblical curse of Ham” which significantly pronounced black people inferior to the rest of the races and is used as a bedrock for committing atrocities against black people.  

While many continue to debate whether this notorious propaganda for brainwashing, is, in fact, the main reason for the bias against blacks both in the past and present times, what is evident is that in many cases, the enslavement and killing of black people had and continues to have religious justifications. In such a place as the U.S., series of events during the post-slave trade era helps to support this assertion, among them the most brutal spectacle of the Jim Crow: The South lynching.

For those who do not know what Jim Crow is, it is a barrier preventing blacks from participating in various activities with whites. With this in place

For most of the century between the two Reconstructions, most of the white South excused and approved acts of violence against black Americans. In its report, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative documents about 4,000 lynchings of black people in 12 southern states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia—between 1877 and 1950. This, the group remarks, is “at least 700 more lynchings in these states than previously reported.”

One famous lynching took place when C.J. Miller―wrongly accused of killing two teenage white girls (or sisters) in western Kentucky―was killed. In his At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, historian Philip Dray writes that Miller was “dragged through the streets to a crude platform of old barrel staves and other kindling,”. There, he was hanged from a telephone pole. Dray also notes that while “the first fall broke his neck… the body was repeatedly raised and lowered while the crowd peppered it with small-arms fire.” Miller’s assailants left his corpse hanging for two hours above the street―during which time he was photographed and mutilated by onlookers. Ultimately, they had him cut down and burned.

Another story tells of the lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn child, killed in a more gruesome manner than Miller. Turner whose husband had been killed was lynched for protesting her husband’s murder. “Before a crowd that included women and children,” writes Dray, “Mary was stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground, gave a cry, and was stomped to death.” Also, Henry Smith—alleged to have raped and murdered 3-year-old Myrtle Vance―was killed.

While some argue that the South lynchings were mere vigilante punishments or, as the Equal Justice Initiative puts it, “celebratory acts of racial control and domination”, others note that they were, however, rituals―specifically of Southern evangelicalism and its then-dogma of purity, literalism, and white supremacy―of a Christian order. As written in Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890–1940, historian Amy Louise Wood, states that “Christianity was the primary lens through which most southerners conceptualized and made sense of suffering and death of any sort”. She further notes that “It would be inconceivable that they could inflict pain and torment on the bodies of black men without imagining that violence as a religious act, laden with Christian symbolism and significance.” In the Journal of Southern Religion, UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Emeritus Donald G. Mathews writes that “Religion permeated communal lynching because the act occurred within the context of a sacred order designed to sustain holiness.” The “sacred order” represented white supremacy and the “holiness”, white virtue. Also, NAACP leader Walter White, in 1929, writes that “It is exceedingly doubtful if lynching could possibly exist under any other religion than Christianity,” and that “No person who is familiar with the Bible-beating, acrobatic, fanatical preachers of hell-fire in the South, and who has seen the orgies of emotion created by them, can doubt for a moment that dangerous passions are released which contribute to emotional instability and play a part in lynching.”

Speaking on motive, Jamelle Bouie in Cristian Soldiers, writes that the “God of the white South demanded purity—embodied by the white woman. White southerners would build the barrier with segregation. But when it was breached, lynching was the way they would mend the fence and affirm their freedom from the moral contamination, represented by blacks and black men in particular.”

It should be noted that blacks in the south were not oblivious of the fact that lynching had backing from the religious class. While some church leaders condemned the practice as contrary to the Gospel of Christ the overwhelming consent of the white South confirmed Whites’ view. Only blacks in the south unanimously condemned the lynching. “The only Southern Christianity united in its opposition to lynching,” writes Jamelle, “was that of black Americans, who tried to recontextualize the onslaught as a kind of crucifixion and its victims as martyrs, flipping the script and making blacks the true inheritors of Christian salvation and redemption.” This point, Jamelle argues, “highlight how none of this was intrinsic to Christianity: It was a question of power, and of the need of the powerful to sanctify their actions.”

Whether or not that was the case, one cannot at any point deny that lynching―as well as was political―was an act of religious significance lent justice by the Christianity of the day. As reported, then President of the U.S. Woodrow Wilson applauded a film which celebrated Judge Lynch and his disciples. Also, South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman is reported to have defended lynching on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

(By Ejiofor Ekene Olaedo)


Gambino, L. (2015, February 10). Jim Crow Lynchings more widespread thatn first thought, report concludes. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from The Guardian:

Jamelle, B. (2015, February 10). Christian Soldiers. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from Slate:





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