A Red Record

Revealing lynching sites in North Carolina and South Carolina

Documentation

Students, see instructions and documentation here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/185GUN9uMniLYUNT8f5Cg2f1wDcdtBUdKD6y5Nq9XES0/edit?usp=sharing

What was your research process?

Our research started with Vann Newkirk’s Lynching in North Carolina: A History, 1865-1941. In his appendix, Newkirk published a list of lynchings in North Carolina. We used that list as a starting point, creating a spreadsheet that listed the 165 lynchings noted.

This number is substantially higher than the 102 documented by the Equal Justice Initiative in its 2014 report. The main reason for the disparity is that the EJI researched only lynchings that took place between 1880 and 1941. Newkirk’s study includes lynchings that took place immediately after the Civil War, covering nearly twenty years of unrest during Reconstruction and Redemption.

But we also found that some of Newkirk’s data appears to be less than perfect. Occasionally, his appendix listed a lynching that was convincingly reported as just a rumor by multiple news sources. (It would not be entirely surprising for a community desiring to protect their reputation to dismiss whispers of a lynching as a rumor, but with evidence only of the absence of a lynching, we had to believe for the time being that no such lynching occurred.)

In other instances, his appendix listed two lynchings when only one occurred, such as the January 1908 lynching of a black swindler in Pine Level, North Carolina.

For each lynching listed in Newkirk’s appendix, we:

  1. sought out newspaper coverage using Carolina’s access to newspapers.com, which allows for keyword searching and browsing across thousands of North Carolina newspapers. When necessary, we used Lexis-Nexis to look for coverage in the Atlanta Constitution.
  2. sought out documentation of personal histories in census records, marriage and death certificates, and city directories using Carolina’s access to ancestry.com.
  3. consulted sources in the archives in UNC Chapel Hill’s  libraries when other sources were not available

What if we could not find the exact location of a lynching?

We were optimistic that we would be able to publish a “best guess” estimate of where each lynching took place but quickly found that newspapers rarely revealed the precise location of a lynching. When they did, their precision was often obscured by history–a man was hanged from a white oak at a fork in the French Broad, for instance, or a mile south of John Smith’s house.

For the moment, our publishing platform allows us only to assign precise locations using latitude/longitude pairs; in order to appear on the map, the lynching needs a latitude/longitude pair assigned to it. Therefore, until we develop the capacity to create polygonal or other location boundaries, we must choose a precise location for each lynching.

Because locating a lynching in a space will tie that space to a terrible act of violence, we had to consider the impact of our choices. Choosing, say, a city center to indicate that a lynching took place somewhere in the city would be unsatisfying, inaccurate, and could produce an unpleasant outcome for the home or business currently in that space.

We opted for a data and color scheme that allowed for levels of certainty: exact (the location is described and we found it), county-wide (choosing the county center to indicate the already-known general location of the lynching), and close to (when we knew the lynching occurred a certain distance from a discernible location). The latter option meant we could assign a specific latitude/longitude pair to a lynching while explicitly noting the lynching did not in fact take place at that spot. These varying levels of certitude appear in different colors in the published map.

Not completely satisfying, but it will work for now.

What if you couldn’t find anything on a lynching?

There were many lynchings in North Carolina about which very little is known. We did our best to fill in the gaps but in the course of just one semester it was not possible to complete the historic record. We tried to assign a marker for every lynching in North Carolina we could confirm.

4 Comments

  1. Am I right that the descriptors are most precise information about actual locations? You say here that dots on map reflect precision of knowledge vis-a-vis location, but the color etc of dots only seems tied to year. Could you clarify that?

    • Correct–the dot color is actually automatically assigned at the back end and does not bear on the proximity to the lynching event. The measure of precision is included as a text value in the lightbox. Thanks for your question!

  2. One of your lynching victims is listed as Lawrence White on the map and in the linked newspaper column but (it seems) is listed at Lawrence Wright on your list of people.

    • Elijah Gaddis

      May 31, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      Thanks for this note. The list we started with tends to be the last thing updated and because we were working from a variety of other secondary sources, often contain typos or misnamings. I’ll correct this now.

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