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From: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 12:00 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Law]: Hobbs on Hill, 'Beyond the Rope: The Impact
of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory'
To: h-rev...@h-net.msu.edu

Karlos Hill.  Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black
Culture and Memory.  New York  Cambridge University Press, 2016.  136
pp.  $24.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-107-62037-7.

Reviewed by Tameka Bradley Hobbs (Florida Memorial University)
Published on H-Law (August, 2017)
Commissioned by Michael J. Pfeifer

Our common understanding of lynching violence in the United States
tends to be limited in scope. When people visualize lynching, they
generally think about the rope and faggot, black male bodies swinging
from trees, with white mobs looking on. There has been an increasing
amount of literature over the past several years that helps to
illuminate and bring to center those who have typically been
overlooked in the dialogue around lynching, including female victims
and Mexican lynching victims in the western United States. Hill's new
work_ Beyond the Rope_ continues this necessary expansion of the
history of lynching by analyzing the ways in which black people
participated in, responded to, wrote about, and remember lynching. If
lynching has traditionally been presented through the "white gaze,"
_Beyond the Rope_ intentionally and effectively takes up the topic of
lynching from the perspective of the "black gaze."

Black vigilantism might seem oxymoronic, but African American
lynchers were responsible for the execution of 148 black people
between 1882 and 1930. The 54 black-on-black lynchings that took
place in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas are the focus of Hill's
interest in the first chapter of his book, where he draws important
distinctions between the motives of black lynchers and those of their
white counterparts. While whites often argued that the courts did not
act quickly enough, African Americans believed that the criminal
justice system failed to respond vigorously, if it responded at all,
in cases where blacks were victimized by other blacks. In Hill's
construction, black vigilantes exercised community justice in a more
authentic way than whites who blamed lynching on a dysfunctional
criminal justice system. "[W]hites lynched," Hill writes, "because
they fundamentally disagreed with _how_ the legal system adjudicated
crimes, whereas black vigilantes lynched because they believed the
criminal justice system _ignored_ criminal activity committed against
blacks" (p. 30; emphasis in the original). However, Hill points out
that with the increasing racialization of lynching by the end of the
1880s--as reflected in the increasing proportion of black people
dying at the hands of white lynch mobs--black leaders in particular
began to denounce black participation in lynching as a potential
encouragement to white vigilantes. Hill's detailed investigation of
black vigilantism is an important but often overlooked niche within
the lynching record in the United States.

In his second chapter, entitled "Resisting Lynching," Hill analyzes
the ways that black journalists and writers crafted stories of
lynching to serve various purposes, dependent upon the audience and
the goals. Hill describes these as victimization narratives, "which
stressed what _white lynchers did_ to black lynch victims," and
consoling narratives, which "emphasized what _black lynch victims
did_ in response to white lynch mob violence" (p. 68; emphasis in
original). In the attempted lynching of Steve Green and the actually
lynching of Henry Lowery in the early 1920s, both from Arkansas,
advocates for the black men--like antilynching advocate Ida B. Wells,
Edward H. Wright, an African American attorney in Chicago, and the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP)--rejected the traditional "black beast" narrative popularized
in the white press. Instead, they maintained that Green and Lowery
were victims of vigilante violence and the corruption of due process
in the criminal justice system. Hill recounts how black communities
in Arkansas and Illinois took direct action to protect potential
lynch victims, while recasting the narratives of these incidents as
examples of white aggression and black death.

Hill continues his exploration of the victimization and consoling
narratives by analyzing Ida B. Wells's _Mob Rule in New Orleans
_(1900), Sutton Griggs Jr.'s _The Hindered Hand; Or The Reign of the
Repressionist _(1905); and Richard Wright's collection of short
stories, _Uncle Tom's Children _(1938). These writers use the power
of their storytelling to emphasize the bravery of would-be lynching
victims. In these works, Hill points out, the authors' "portrayals of
lynching and the lynched black body revolve around demonstrating
black agency through the tortuous choices black characters were
compelled to make in the face of white violence" (p. 101). Hill's
investigation of black memory of lynching continues this line of
investigation by mining the oral histories from the University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill's Behind the Veil Oral History Project,
and highlighting the ways that African Americans have used the power
of memory to reinterpret lynching incidents as consoling narratives.
This is a significant point and adds to a growing body of work which
highlights the role of memory, history, and lynching in the South.[1]
In Hill's construction, both black fiction writers and members of
communities where lynching took place possess the ability to
construct consoling narratives in their imaginations and memories to
preserve the dignity of black lynching victims, real or imagined.

Taken as a whole, _Beyond the Rope_ itself serves as a much-need
consoling narrative within the canon of lynching violence in the
United States. Hill's work expands the connection between black men
and lynching beyond victimhood, instead presenting them as being as
armed and as dangerous as their white counterparts. The incidents
Hill presents vivify black men who exercised armed self-defense, both
individually and communally, even to the extent of extralegal
violence. Additionally, he elevates stories of communities that
cooperated to evade, outmaneuver, and outwit lynch mobs, and even
successfully leverage the legal system in their favor. The black
people Hill writes about were more than just victims; they were bold
and savvy in applying their agency to preserve black life in the face
of racial violence. All of these points make _Beyond the Rope_ an
important and necessary counternarrative in the area of lynching


[1]. Bruce Baker, "Under the Rope: Lynching and Memory in Laurens
County, South Carolina" in _Where These Memories Grow: History,
Memory, and Southern Identity,_ ed. W. Fitzhugh Brundage (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Jonathan Markovitz,
_Legacies of Lynching: Racial Violence and_ _Memory_ (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2004); and Julie Buckner Armstrong,
_Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching_ (Athens: University of
Georgia Press, 2011).

Citation: Tameka Bradley Hobbs. Review of Hill, Karlos, _Beyond the
Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory_. H-Law,
H-Net Reviews. August, 2017.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=47487

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart
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