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Jim Crow and Violence

Violence Area


Lynching As Social Control

At the beginning of the 20th Century, much of the anti-black propaganda found in scientific journals, newspapers, and novels focused on the stereotype of the black brute. The fear of black men raping white women became a public rationalization for the lynching of black people. Lynching is the illegal, often public, killing of an accused person by a mob.

Most of the victims were hanged or shot, but some were burned at the stake, castrated, beaten with clubs, or dismembered. In the mid-1800s, white people constituted the majority of victims (and perpetrators). However, after the Civil War, black people were the most frequent victims. The great majority of lynchings occurred in southern and border states, where the resentment against black people ran deepest.

How Sleeps the Beast book

The Brute Caricature

During the postwar period of Radical Reconstruction (1867-1877), many white writers argued that without slavery-which supposedly contained their animalistic tendencies- black people were reverting to criminal savagery. The brute caricature portrayed black men as threatening menaces, fiends, and sociopaths, and as hideous, terrifying predators who targeted helpless victims, especially white women.

Birth of Nation Poster

The KKK as Terrorists

Ku Klux Klan (also called the Invisible Empire) is the name of a secret society that has terrorized black people from the end of the Civil War to the present. Claiming to be a Christian organization, Klan members have harassed, beaten, lynched, and bombed black Americans, as well as Catholics, Jews, immigrants and others. Klan membership exceeded two million in the mid-1920s; by 2010, the number was less than 20,000.

Today, there are many small independent Klan organizations, in addition to dozens of other white supremacist groups still active in the United States and beyond. The new Klans have "mainstreamed" their recruitment by publicly deemphasizing violence. They also stress opposition to affirmative action, busing, and liberal immigration policies.

Women of the Klan book


Although it is often seen as a white adult male organization, the Klan has included women since the 1920s. In that decade, roughly half a million white Protestant women joined the Women's Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). In the 21st Century, there are thousands of Klanswomen working to preserve white supremacy.

Junior Klan

Klan Children

In the past, children were symbolic members of the Klan until they could undergo the necessary rituals for full membership. Adorned in small Klan uniforms, they marched in large Klan parades. Their presence sent the message that the organization promoted "family values." In the 21st Century, Klan organizations use the Internet and some heavy metal music to actively recruit white teenagers.

Runnin' Nigger Target

Running Nigger Target

This "Running Nigger Target" has been reproduced on paper, wood, and iron. Available for purchase on the Internet, these targets were being sold in 2012. This particular target was purchased from a man who used it as practice for his high powered rifle.

Johnny Headstrong book African Dodger graphic

Black people As Targets

"Hit the Coon" and "African Dodger" were popular games at resorts, fairs, and festivals before the 1920s. Prizes were awarded for direct hits. Some operators gave the human targets protective wooden helmets covered with woolly hair.

Play video icon for Blacks as Targets video A short video showing carnival games, movies, cartoons, toys and newspaper articles about black people as targets.

Carnival Games

Hostility Against Black People

Carnival games in the 19th and early 20th centuries revealed white hostility toward black people. This enmity was legitimated, even celebrated, by making it appear that African Americans were deserving and willing victims of white aggression.

Little Black Sambo board game


Sambo is a racial slur that became popular after the publication of Helen Bannerman's book, Little Black Sambo. The Sambo caricature portrays black males as lazy and ignorant.

Wooden black head as target

Fake Black people As Targets

By the 1900s, it was no longer acceptable to use real black people as targets, so the faces of African Americans were reproduced in wooden and metal forms

Penny in the Mouth target

Penny In The Mouth

My mouth is open.
Kiss me.
Hold my old and splintered lips,
And close them.
I am poor.
So pay me.
But your rancid copper pennies,
Taste bloody on my tongue.
My eyes are staring.
Wake me.
Scrape away the darkened paint,
That shackles me to anger.
My mouth is open.
Feed me.
Free me from the game you play,
I've given all I have away.

~Frances Marcinkiewicz
Big Rapids High School, 2002