This project is based on the southern lynching inventory compiled by professors Stewart Tolnay and E. M. Beck. Starting in 1986, the Tolnay-Beck inventory originally collected data on ten Deep South states; in the early 2000s, professor Beck expanded the inventory by researching lynching victims in Virginia and West Virginia. The Tolnay-Beck inventory is available for research purposes at the CSDE Lynching Database website, curated by professor Amy Bailey. Professor Bailey also enriched the inventory by linking lynching victims to census data. The data collection strategy behind the inventory is described in detail here.
Drawing upon the Tolnay-Beck database, this project aimed to revisit and complement the existing inventory of Virginia lynching victims by using local, rather than national, historical newspapers. Typically, researchers have relied on national newspapers (e.g., The Chicago Tribune) and publications by organizations like the NAACP and the Tuskegee Institute to compile lynching databases. However, local newspapers often have more comprehensive and detailed accounts of lynching, due to their geographical proximity to the events. Furthermore, the lynching narratives of national vs. local newspapers have not been systematically compared yet. This project thus provides a revised and more detailed catalogue of Virginia lynchings, based almost entirely on local Virginia newspapers. While the Tolnay-Beck database identified 109 lynching victims in Virginia between 1877 and 1927, new evidence drawn from local newspapers indicates that five of these alleged victims, all of them white men, were not actually lynched. David Thomas, Evan Griffith and O. F. Ferrall were either sentenced to prison or were able to pay reparations for their crimes, thus escaping the fury of the lynching mobs. Two brothers, J. B. Prince and J. H. Prince, previously indicated as victims of an arson by a mob, were instead merely the owners of the burned down store. In another case, a white man named John Dozier was thought to have been lynched by his neighbors; instead, it was his employee, an unnamed African American man, that was shot and killed.
In total, 83 black men, one black woman, one white woman and 19 white men were lynched in Virginia – even though these numbers are most likely an underestimation of the real number of people who died at the hands of lynchers. The updated inventory of Virginia lynching victims can be consulted and downloaded for research purposes here. The lynching victims database also provides a brief summary of the events that led to each lynching – clicking on “LINK” will open a post dedicated to that victim. Readers can also browse all these summaries by decade (e.g., 1870-1880, 1880-1890, etc.). Like any other lynching database, this is not a definitive list of victims and will be subject to changes, as additional research will undoubtedly uncover more information.
The data collection process started in the Spring of 2017, as students in the JUST402 Advanced Research course utilized the Chronicling America website to search, catalogue and store more than 500 articles from historical Virginia newspapers. In particular, the articles collected are drawn from 36 historical local newspapers (with the exception of 3 articles coming from The Washington Post and one from the New York Tribune). All the articles are organized in a relational database that allows readers to browse, search, access and download the newspaper pages here.
Links to Useful Websites: