South Carolina takes aim at lynching law because it hurt blacks
The law originally was designed to stop the Jim Crow-era lynching of black men. But in recent years, South Carolina's lynching law mainly had targeted African-American gang members.
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Passed in 1951 after the brutal mob killing of taxi driver Willie Earle, who was dragged out of a county jail in Greenville, S.C., and murdered, the law was both a political response and, in all likelihood, a way to preempt what many knew what would eventually come – the 1968 federal antilynching law.
While the law’s modern application may be “grotesque,” as Professor Brundage puts it, the fact is that South Carolina was the one Deep South state to actually fight back against lynchings during the years of the brutal practice.
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Other states had many more lynchings
To be sure, iSouth Carolina Gov. Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman, a Democrat, provided the modern archetype of the angry and racist white man, calling his political opponents “white Negroes,” chastising the elite, and defending mob justice. But Georgia, Texas, and Mississippi saw many more lynchings than did the Palmetto State. And while the first lynching conviction came in Georgia in the early 20th century, it involved a white man convicted of hanging another white man. South Carolina prosecutors became the first ones in the South to use an anti-ynching law in the mid-1920s to give redress to the family of a black man lynched while county authorities looked the other way.
Still, in the wake of the long-running controversy over the Confederate flag on the state capitol grounds, Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” outburst during President Obama’s healthcare speech to Congress, and Gov. Mark Sanford’s brush with impeachment over an affair with a woman in Argentina, some commentators see in the changes to the lynching law a growing sensitivity among lawmakers over the state’s national profile and reputation.
“South Carolina has been embarrassed by a series of racially tinged scandals, and to look at South Carolina as a place where they’re prosecuting African-Americans for lynching of all things, how’s that going to look and play in terms of national politics and national PR?” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst and the author of the upcoming book “How Obama Governed: The year of crisis and challenge.”
“It seems that South Carolina is beginning to come to grips and wrestle with this black eye and realize that this is an embarrassing law,” he says.
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