The Mob Still Rides

By Dr. Arthur F. Raper

Vol.22, No.1, Spring 2000 p. 6

During the 1930s, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation worked closely with the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching to end the brutal practice. Following an increase in lynchings during the early 1930s, the Commission conducted several studies on them. Below is an excerpt from a 1935 study, The Mob Still Rides, written by Dr. Arthur Raper, research secretary at the Commission.

The twenty-one lynchings of 1930--as many as took place in the two previous years combined--gave rise to an exhaustive case study of that year's lynchings by the Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching, an association of well-known citizens of the South who undertook the task at the request of the Commission of Interracial Cooperation. The results of that study were summarized in an 80-page pamphlet, "Lynchings and What They Mean" and later in a 500-page volume entitled, "The Tragedy of Lynching." These were written and compiled by Dr. Arthur F. Raper, Research Secretary of the Commission who directed and in large part conducted the studies.

Five years have passed and the lynching habit seems as strongly entrenched as it was in 1930. The record, which meantime showed a most encouraging decrease to the "low" of eight in 1932, went up to twenty-eight the next year, and to twenty in 1935. Whatever the cause of this trend, it is most disquieting and indicates that the mob is still potentially and often actually in the saddle in large areas of the country.

Confident that society continues to endure these barbarities chiefly because of misapprehension as to their nature and results, we are convinced that the fundamental remedy is to bring the facts into the limelight and keep them there. That, in brief, is the purpose of this little volume, in which Dr. Raper summarizes the results of careful studies, made by himself and Professor Walter Chivers, of the eight-four lynchings of the past five years.

Summary of Findings

A study of the eighty-four lynchings of the past five years reveals the following facts:

1. A larger proportion of the lynchings of this period occurred in the South than ever before, and a larger proportion of the victims were Negroes.

2. Eleven percent of the mob victims were not accused of any crime; an additional 30 percent were accused only of minor offenses. Of the other 59 percent, many were not guilty of the crimes with which they were charged.

3. Contrary to the general impression that rape is the chief cause of lynching, only 11 percent of the victims were even accused of this crime. Scarcely one-fourth were accused of rape and attempted rape combined.

4. Courts rarely indict lynchers, more rarely convict, and almost never impose sentences commensurate with the crime. Indictments have been returned in but one lynching in twelve, and convictions in scarcely one in thirty.

5. There is evidence that the peace officers participated in several lynchings and connived in many more.

6. Over nine-tenths of the lynchings occurred in the open country and a little over four-fifths in counties where the per capita income and taxable wealth were below those of their respective states. Over three-fourths of the threatened lynchings prevented were also in poorer counties.

7. When a mob does not lynch it sometimes dominates the court, and so brings a "legal lynching."

8. Nearly 20 percent of the persons lynched and threatened by mobs were mental defectives.

9. The number of lynchings declines from a yearly average of 124 between 1895 and 1905, to seventy between 1905 and 1915, to fifty-three between 1915 and 1925, and to seventeen between 1925 and 1935. The past decade, however, shows more lynchings in the latter half than in the first half-the only decade in which this was true. The number of attempted lynchings also rose during the latter half of the decade.

The optimism of ten years ago is waning; lynchings are not fading naturally from the American scene; the mob still rides.