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Race and Lethal Forms of Social Control: A Preliminary Investigation Into Execution and Self-Help in the United States, 1930-1964

NCJ Number
Crime, Law and Social Change Volume: 45 Issue: 2 Dated: 2006 Pages: 155-164
A. Austin
Date Published
10 pages
This study examined the relationship between lynching and legal execution in the United States over the period 1930-1964, a time frame that covers the Great Depression through the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The study found that the lynching of Blacks during the historic period examined was positively correlated with a number of key variables: total number of legal executions, the execution of Whites, the execution of Whites convicted of murder, the execution of Blacks, and the execution of Blacks convicted of murder. The effect of legal executions on Black lynchings was most strongly associated with the total number of executions of Whites and of the number of Whites executed for murder. In those years when Whites were executed for murder, the frequency of lynching of Blacks was much greater. This suggests that Whites sought to achieve an approximate racial parity by increasing the execution of Blacks outside the law. This link between lynching and legal execution is examined against Donald Black's theory that some behavior defined as crime is "moralistic," i.e., is done in the "pursuit of Justice." These crimes are self-help actions that reflect personal and collective reactions to perceptions of harmful and unjust actions. Where the law and its enforcement are perceived as weak, misguided, unpredictable, or slow in their application, self-help justice is more likely to occur. Thus, Donald Black's theory was supported by the study data. Data on executions under civil authority for the study period were obtained from the U.S. Department of Justice. Lynching statistics were obtained from the Tuskegee Institution. 6 tables and 10 notes


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