During the century after the close of the Civil War, more than 5000 Americans were lynched, and after 1885 the preponderant majority of victims were African-American males who lived in the Southern U.S. Although motives for this vigilantism varied, a broad objective was to keep African-Americans “in their place,” and lynching was part of a general campaign of violence and threats that was intended to maintain white supremacy in the South. Lynching became less common after 1935, though it continued into the Civil Rights era and beyond, as did other forms of violence and intimidation that targeted blacks.
Jason Morgan Ward is a professor of history at Mississippi State University. His talk at OSU will focus on an investigation by a well-known American journalist, Victor H. Bernstein. In October 1942, Bernstein headed to Mississippi to report on the lynching of two adolescent black boys. Thirteen years before Emmett Till's murder shook America, white vigilantes killed these two boys for similar reasons -- an alleged advance on a young white woman -- yet few remember their names. Bernstein, who had earlier served as a correspondent in Nazi Germany and who would return to cover the postwar Nuremburg trials, arrived in Mississippi on the heels of the first FBI lynching investigation in state history. His reports reveal the opportunities and obstacles faced by black Mississippians and civil rights activists in the World War II era, as well as the struggle against fascism and hatred that predated and outlasted the wartime crisis.
Although a young scholar, Professor Ward has already produced a number of major articles and two highly acclaimed books: Defending White Democracy: The Making of the Segregationist Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936-1965 (2011); and Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence and America’s Civil Rights Century (2016). Hanging Bridge will be on sale at the conclusion of Professor Ward’s talk.