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Study: Lynchings from 100 Years Ago Connected to Death of Black People Today



The National Lynching Memorial in Alabama. (Mickey Mathews/Flickr)

America’s brutal racist past still has a hold on the present—in the most tragic way.

A new study published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities found that counties with the highest rates of lynchings between 1877 and 1950 had higher mortality rates between 2010 and 2014.

While the death rates were far worse for blacks than for whites, white people in the counties also had lower life spans than their counterparts in counties with fewer historical lynchings.

Researchers adjusted for a wide range of socio-economic factors that could impact mortality rates, including access to health insurance, education levels and unemployment and still found higher mortality rates linked to lynchings in the past.

It’s not clear how the trauma of lynchings is passed down through the generations, the researchers note. But by their nature, lynchings were a terrorist act designed to have as wide of an impact as possible—a message to society at large.

‘The common image of a hanged individual surrounded by a white crowd portrays an almost calm death scene,” the researchers noted in their introduction. “Extensive torture frequently preceded the eventual death, and mutilation of the body by the assembled crowd was expected. Of note, photographs of lynching victims and the perpetrators were circulated as a way of disseminating the event’s terror message more broadly.”

“Strange fruit yields strange harvest, among both black and white populations,” researcher Janice Probst said. “While we cannot change the past, we can identify key problems and work to change the future.”

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