At the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., more than 4,000 victims of racist terrorism are remembered over the heads of visitors.
On Tuesday morning, President Trump compared the House impeachment inquiry into his conduct to “a lynching,” generating a firestorm of condemnation.
The history Trump invoked is brutal.
Lynching is the extrajudicial murder of an untried suspect, usually by a mob and often by hanging. In the United States, 4,743 lynchings were recorded between 1882 and 1968, according to the NAACP. Of those murdered people, 3,446 were black men, women and children — about 73 percent. Research by the Equal Justice Initiative, which created the lynching memorial, found a different number of black victims: about 4,400 between 1877 and 1950.
Lynching victims were often tortured before they died, and after death their corpses frequently desecrated. Such was the case for Matthew Williams, who was lynched in Salisbury, Md., in 1931.
As The Washington Post’s DeNeen L. Brown wrote last year, Williams was accused of killing a white man over a pay dispute, which he denied. He had been shot in the leg and was in a hospital when he was tied in a straitjacket, thrown out a window and stabbed with ice picks by a mob.
They dragged him three blocks and tied a noose around his neck, taunting him and raising and lowering his body. After he had died by hanging, the mob drove his body through a black neighborhood, cutting off body parts and throwing them onto black families’ porches, shouting, “Make n----- sandwiches!”
Using lynching to taunt other African Americans is by no means unique to the murder of Williams. In fact, racial intimidation was the point. When Cleo Wright was lynched in Sikeson, Mo., in 1942, his wife was forced to identify his body by the white mob who murdered him. His corpse was then burned in front of two black churches full of worshipers.
The legacy of lynching echoes through to today. A sign marking the site where 14-year-old Emmett Till’s body was found in 1955 was shot up so many times that the newest version was made out of bulletproof material.
Other lynching victims, like Henry Smith, were burned alive. Smith was accused of killing a white girl in Paris, Tex., in 1893. A posse captured him, paraded him through town on a carnival float, tortured him before a crowd of 10,000 and then set him on fire. People in the crowd clamored for pieces of bone to keep as souvenirs.
Sometimes, the white mob took photos to sell souvenir postcards. You can view the postcards showing the 1916 lynching of teenager Jesse Washington in Waco, Tex., here.
Although African Americans were most frequently targeted, they were not the only victims of lynching. Some white victims were lynched for helping black people; immigrants from countries like Mexico, China and Australia were also lynched.
So, for comparison, impeachment is not a lawless mob committing murder but a group of democratically elected officials following a process laid out in the U.S. Constitution for the potential removal of a president. The president is simply removed from office, not from this earth.
The current impeachment inquiry is not the first to be compared to lynching, as Princeton historian Kevin M. Kruse pointed out Tuesday in a tweet.
Though Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters he agreed with Trump, calling it “a lynching in every sense,” the comparison largely drew condemnation from across the political world, from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush to Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
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