Decades after lynching was used to intimidate and terrorize blacks in the South, the deadly tactic continues to have a chilling effect on whether African Americans decide to cast ballots in elections today.
Research by Clemson University economic historian Jhacova Williams shows black Southerners who live in counties where more lynchings occurred in the past are less likely to register to vote today.
They are also less likely to indicate they voted in recent presidential elections compared with their white counterparts.
The reason is rooted in distant memories.
“It’s not due to education levels or low earnings or incarceration rates or voter apathy because of Republican Party dominance in these Southern states,” Williams said, citing factors commonly used to explain lower voter participation rates among African Americans in the South.
“This is about trust,” she said.
The title of her research is “Historical Lynchings and the Contemporary Voting Behavior of Blacks.”
Historians agree lynchings were violent tools of racial intimidation designed to exert political and societal dominance over blacks living and working in the American South.
According to a 2015 report from the Equal Justice Initiative, between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the start of the civil rights movement in 1950, there were some 4,084 lynchings of black people in America — 800 more than had been previously reported.
An estimated 185 of those lynchings occurred in South Carolina.
According to Williams’ research, which took four years to complete, the data found that for every additional lynching reported per 10,000 people in the black voting-age population in 1900, the voter registration rate of blacks today decreases by 1 percent.
In Georgia, the Southern state with the second-highest number of African American lynching victims and behind only Mississippi, the link was even more pronounced.
This question of racial intimidation and long-term voting patterns also squares with some of the problems we see in Texas, where Latinos vote at lower rates than other parts of the nation. While I haven’t seen a study like this one for South Carolina, anecdotally at least, the counties of south Texas, which have low Latino voter rates, were also areas of massive racial violence, as well as widespread voter fraud as Mexican-Americans working under white landlords were long made to vote the way their landlord demanded. Robert Caro gets into this in the first couple of volumes of the LBJ biography in good detail, as well as the chicanery this widespread vote buying could cause.
Who knows how long it will take to recover from this current level of racist voter suppression launched by the Republican Party.