Today, for my big lower-division class on Evil (enrollment 300), I'm teaching about Southern U.S. racial lynching in the early 20th century. My treatment centers on lynching photography, especially photos that include perpetrators and bystanders, which were often proudly circulated as postcards.
Here's one photo, from James Allen et al. (2000) Without Sanctuary:
Here's the accompanying text from Allen et al.:
The following account is drawn from James Cameron's book, A Time of Terror: Thousands of Indianans carrying picks, bats, ax handles, crowbars, torches, and firearms attacked the Grant County Courthouse, determined to "get those goddamn Niggers." A barrage of rocks shattered the jailhouse windows, sending dozens of frantic inmates in search of cover. A sixteen-year-old boy, James Cameron, one of the three intended victims, paralyzed by fear and incomprehension, recognized familiar faces in the crowd -- schoolmates, and customers whose lawns he had mowed and whose shoes he had polished -- as they tried to break down the jailhouse door with sledgehammers. Many police officers milled outside with the crowd, joking. Inside, fifty guards with guns waited downstairs.The girls are holding cloth souvenirs from the corpses. The studio photographer who made this postcard printed thousands of copies over the next ten days, selling for fifty cents apiece.
The door was ripped from the wall, and a mob of fifty men beat Thomas Shipp senseless and dragged him into the street. The waiting crowd "came to life." It seemed to Cameron that "all of those ten to fifteen thousand people were trying to hit him all at once." The dead Shipp was dragged with a rope up to the window bars of the second victim, Abram Smith. For twenty minutes, citizens pushed and shoved for a closer look at the "dead nigger." By the time Abe Smith was hauled out he was equally mutilated. "Those who were not close enough to hit him threw rocks and bricks. Somebody rammed a crowbar through his chest several times in great satisfaction." Smith was dead by the time the mob dragged him "like a horse" to the courthouse square and hung him from a tree. The lynchers posed for photos under the limb that held the bodies of the two dead men.
Then the mob headed back from James Cameron and "mauled him all the way to the courthouse square," shoving and kicking him to the tree, where the lynchers put a hanging rope around his neck.
Cameron credited an unidentified woman's voice with silencing the mob (Cameron, a devout Roman Catholic, believes that it was the voice of the Virgin Mary) and opening a path for his retreat to the county jail....
According to Cameron's later account, Shipp and Smith were probably guilty of murdering a white man and raping a white woman. He insists that he himself had fled the scene before either of those crimes occurred. According to historical records, in only about one-third of racial lynching cases were the victims even accused of a grievous crime such as rape or murder. In about one-third of cases, they were accused of non-grievous crime, such as theft. In about one-third of cases, the victims were accused of no real crime at all, only of being "uppity", or of having consensual sexual relations with a white woman, or the victim was a friend or family member of another lynching victim.