Shortly before one o’clock on the morning of February 22, 1898, Frazier Baker, an African-American postmaster in the predominantly white hamlet of Lake City, South Carolina, awoke to discover a raging fire deliberately set in back of the small wooden structure that housed both his family and the town’s post office.
In early 1893, a white reporter, writing in the New York Sun, offered a grisly account of the burning at the stake in Paris, Texas, of a black man accused of molesting a white girl.As press accounts like this make clear, to witness a lynching—or even just glimpse its aftermath—could be a searing experience for those who were the most likely victims of the lynch mob—young African-American males.
From 1889 to 1918 more than 2,400 African Americans were hanged or burned at the stake. Many lynching victims were accused of little more than making "boastful remarks," "insulting a white man" or seeking employment "out of place."
Lynching arose from the ashes of a ruthless and costly war that pitted brother against brother and father against son. The Civil War left a trail of blood and bitterness that twisted its way through successive generations and set the stage for a frenzy of so called mob justice that killed thousands of men, women and children, most of them black.
Lynching is the practice whereby a mob--usually several dozen or several hundred persons--takes the law into its own hands in order to injure and kill a person accused of some wrongdoing. The alleged offense can range from a serious crime like theft or murder to a mere violation of local customs and sensibilities. The issue of the victim's guilt is usually secondary, since the mob serves as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.