(Story contributed by Jim H. Smith)
In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Ashraf Rushdy, professor of English, professor of African American Studies and chair of the African American Studies Program. Rushdy is the author of American Lynching, a meticulously researched interpretive history of how lynching became a uniquely American phenomenon and how it has endured, evolved and changed over the course of three centuries. The book was published by Yale University Press in October 2012.
Q: Scholars have been writing about lynching for more than a century now. There is a significant body of extant literature. What did you aim to achieve with American Lynching? How is it different from other books on the subject?
A: There are, indeed, many books about lynching, and I’m beholden to that body of scholarship. Many of the books that have been written are about specific cases of lynching. There are fewer books that attempt to interpret the phenomenon generally. That’s what I have attempted to do with my book.
Lynching has been part of the American fabric for a long time, but the term has not consistently described the same thing over that time. I wanted to understand how lynching had taken root in America and how one practice, widely referred to as lynching, could develop into something quite different. And I wanted to offer a strong interpretation.
It’s interesting to note that lynching was not always a racially motivated act. The relative absence of lynchings in slaveholding Northern states and the occurrence of lynching in non-slaveholding western states is explained by the extent to which the mores and established precedents that emerged from those original slave laws took hold of the imagination of the residents of those states.
Q: Is lynching a uniquely American phenomenon, or is there a uniquely American “style” of lynching?
A: Well, the term “lynching” is certainly uniquely American. It derives from Colonel Charles Lynch,