Sociologists Discover Connection Between Lynchings in Old Times and Homicides Now





For decades, scholars have sought to answer this bloody question: Why has the murder rate been disproportionally high in the South for more than a century? Some argue it's the weather -- hot, steamy conditions setting tempers on edge and provoking deadly violence. Others blame widespread poverty and illiteracy. Still others fault a so-called southern "code of honor" that requires any slight to be avenged.

Now three sociologists have found an additional explanation: lynchings.

Steven F. Messner of the State University of New York at Albany and his collaborators Messner and his colleagues produced two maps. One showed homicides: Those counties with the highest rates were colored black; those with lower rates were shaded gray, while those with the lowest rates were white. The second displayed lynchings, using the same shadings. Counties with the most lynchings were colored black, those with a lower rate were gray and those with the lowest rates were white.

A quick glace at the maps revealed a chilling pattern. The dark areas roughly overlapped: the counties with the most lynchings had the highest homicide rates, while counties with fewer lynchings had comparatively fewer murders.




comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Catherine I Bieler - 10/1/2005

Perhaps the point of the article is that people in the counties where lynchings took place were able to feed their desire for violence using lynchings as a "socially acceptable" outlet, but now must find other outlets, since lynching someone, for whatever reason, is certainly not going to be condoned in this day and age.

Also, most of the south's demographics has changed drastically the last 40 years, with people from other states usually outnumbering the native population by quite a bit.

How do those western and northern transplants with a propensity for violence end up primarily in the lynching counties?

There is a phenomenon in the south, Im not sure if it has a name. Successful people from the North East (mostly) come to the slower Southern states, and after a couple of years these people just stop. They become alcoholics, drug addicts, minor criminals, etc. They all think they are Jimmy Buffett or Ernest Hemingway, without the talent. Im not talking about kids, Im talking about successful executives in their 40' and 50's. Could this be part of the same problem or phenomenon?

Cathy


Peter Mark Williams - 9/28/2005

I also agree with the previous comments about how silly that reads on the face of it, but in Dr. Messer's defense, murder then does not explain murder now. I would be interested to know what his conclusion is as to why a community where lynching happened in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and presumably no longer occurs, would continue to have the some murder rate. Lyncher feared neither the law nor the family and friends of victims. Modern murderers certainly risk the former and often the latter.


Peter Mark Williams - 9/28/2005

I also agree with the previous comments about how silly that reads on the face of it, but in Dr. Messer's defense, murder then does not explain murder now. I would be interested to know what his conclusion is as to why a community where lynching happened in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and presumably no longer occurs, would continue to have the some murder rate. Lyncher feared neither the law nor the family and friends of victims. Modern murderers certainly risk the former and often the latter.


John J Capozucca - 9/28/2005

Is the "chilling pattern" that the maps showing the most lynchings in "old times" overlap with the higher homicide rate of today? Could it be because the counties with fewer lynchings then and fewer murders now had and still have less people? I'm glad I'm not the only person who feels he's missing something.


david little - 9/28/2005

It seems to me that a county predisposed to violence would exhibit the violence in all behavior. Whoever said lynching is murder is exactly right. Murder is murder is murder.

Somebody wasted their grant money. Mr. Messner should win the "Master of the Obvious" award for this research. He might as well have compared knife sales with knife deaths county by county. Duh...


Tony Luke - 9/28/2005

I guess I'm missing it, too... Mr. Miller has raised really good points. A story like this just invites all sorts of wild speculation: what if there were something in the water or some sort of magnetic flux in the earth's crust in those areas? Something that really caused some people in these areas to have higher than normal predilections for violence. This would make the history of lynchings in those areas (and murder today) simply the result of environmental factors and (weak) biology instead of willful racism and corruption. The klan as a medical syndrome? Nah!!!


Harley Ray Miller - 9/28/2005

Isn't lynching just another terrible form of homicide? Why would we be edified or even surprised that they would so highly correlate? What in the history/culture of these particular southern counties might explain the general propensity to murder each other? I would suspect the cruel history of the institution of slavery and then Jim Crow segregation, but was this history shared by counties that didn't have both high lynching and murder rates?

Subscribe to our mailing list