Why North Carolina didn’t have more lynchings

“Lynchings were far more likely to occur in some regions of the South than others, and those patterns call into question easy assumptions about the forces behind lynching…. Although North Carolina witnessed the greatest amount of racial conflict in the political realm of any Southern state, including the brutal white supremacy campaign and Wilmington riot of 1898, the heavily black part of the state registered a remarkably low rate of lynching…..

“[Regions that did have high rates of lynching] shared a particular demography. [They] had an extremely low rural population density [and] in the last two decades of the 19th century they experienced tremendous rates of black population increase.”

— From “The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction” by Edward L. Ayers (2007)

Some readers may struggle with the distinction between lynchings and the bloody coup d’etat in Wilmington.

Governor talked, but lynch mob still walked

“Just after one midnight last week 200 masked men drove up to the Edgecombe County jail in Tarboro, N. C., gained admittance by pretending they brought a prisoner. Silently they drew revolvers, covered the deputy sheriff, brought out Negro Oliver Moore, 35, who was being held for trial in September on a charge of attacking Ethel and Lucile Morgan, white sisters aged 7 and 5.

“In a motorcade of 50 cars without licenses the 200 took Oliver Moore 15 mi. to his home in Wilson County, there strung him from a tree. As his body twisted and writhed, all shot at it until he was dead; first lynchee in North Carolina since 1921, twelfth in the U. S. for 1930.

“Said North Carolina’s Governor Oliver Max Gardner: ‘I am horrified. It is a black spot on a fine record … of nearly a decade. … A disgrace to North Carolina! The State will do everything in its power to find the guilty parties and bring them to justice.”

— From Time magazine, Sept. 1, 1930

Despite Gardner’s promise, investigation of the lynching was cursory at best, and no arrests were ever made.

Antilynching bill: Step toward Reconstruction II?

“[North Carolina’s Josiah] Bailey became the first Southern senator to outline what he perceived as a dangerous aspect of the [1937] antilynching measure…. To him, it  represented the vanguard of a much larger movement aimed at dismantling Southern society.

” ‘I fear it, I dread it, I fight it, I argue against it because I know the moment it goes through the very men who put it forward will almost be compelled to go ahead with the old Civil Rights Act [of 1875]….

“Reconstruction all over again…. will destroy the South.’ ”

— From “Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Rights, 1938-1965” by Keith M. Finley (2008)

The Civil Rights Act of 1875, passed in the waning days of the last biracial Congress of the 19th century, was not enforced, and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1883. It contained many provisions — such as guaranteed access to public accommodations — that eventually were included in 1960s legislation.