Monday, October 31, 2016

A Look at Lynching in the United States

With the current racial tension within the United States and the Halloween season, I have seen many posts on Facebook showing black mannequins and other human-like figures hanging from trees. These images spark debate on whether these are directly racist acts or just distasteful mistakes. The comment sections are filled with pseudo-lynching-experts defending both sides.

So I decided to do an analysis on lynching within the United States. I found data on lynching from the Tuskegee Institute [1-2]. This data set contains information on lynchings from 1882-1962. I tried to find lynching statistics from before 1882 and found, during slavery, lynching Africans was fairly uncommon due to slave owners having a vested interest in keeping the slave alive.

The first bit of information I found shocking was whites made up 27% of lynching victims. However, the percentage of whites vs. blacks changes wildly from state to state. To understand this the percentage of black victims were plotted by state. As can be assumed, the deep south had the highest percentage of blacks followed by the rest of the south.

However, a look at the total number of lynchings showed states in the deep south did not offend evenly. Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas had the most lynchings (581, 531, and 493 respectfully) and then there was a large drop off to Louisiana and Alabama at 391 and 347. New Hampshire had zero lynchings and Delaware, Maine, and Vermont had one. New York and New Jersey only had two.

Over time, the number of people lynched has dropped to near zero. The next graph shows how lynching has decreased over time for whites and blacks. Black lynchings have about a 30 year lag behind the decrease of white lynchings.

In the first few years of the above chart, whites out number blacks in the number of lynchings. Below is a graph showing the percentage breakdown by year. Whites out number blacks for 4 years and then blacks out number whites for 60 years. In the last few years in the data set, whites exceed blacks. When taking into account how infrequent lynchings where in these last few years, two white people being lynched can account for 66.6% of lynchings.

I hope you learned something new, reading this analysis and as always, please feel free to add ideas for additional graphs or analysis in the comment section.

Data Link and Notes:

[1] -
[2] -

Connor Jennings Data Scientist

I am a PhD student in Industrial Engineering at Penn State University. I did my undergrad at Iowa State in Industrial Engineering and Economics. My academic website can be found here.