Last week marked the opening in Montgomery, Alabama, of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a first of its kind exhibit commemorating over 4,000 lynching victims. The project, spearheaded by the Equal Justice Initiative, also includes a museum that traces America’s history of racism, from slavery to our current era of mass incarceration. It is the lynching memorial, however, that has garnered the most public attention.
Between 1892 and 1940, over 3,000 people, the overwhelming majority of them black, were lynched in the United States. In the 1890s, lynchings “claimed an average of 139 lives each year, 75 percent of them Black.” Some historians refer to the decades spanning the period from the early 1880s through the early 1930s as the “lynching era.”
No one did more to raise consciousness and to end systemic lynching in the U.S. than Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Born in 1862 to enslaved parents in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells was a pioneering journalist and civil rights activist. In 1892, she launched a crusade against lynching after her friend Thomas Moss and two others were lynched in Memphis, Tennessee. Wells wrote blistering editorials decrying the injustice of lynching; she published pamphlets on the topic and traveled overseas to lecture about the evils of extrajudicial killings.