Racial Violence in the News during the Late 19th Century
Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century newspapers often included articles about the racial violence that was becoming common in southern states during the Jim Crow era, but the white newspapers often told a different story than the black newspapers. The Austin Daily Statesman, for example, regularly noted instances of racial violence, including articles that highlighted the lynching of black men and women, the forced expulsion of blacks from towns, and the pending threat of violent retribution for actual or alleged attack or murders. The prevalence of news stories about racial and sexual violence, and a review of many articles in the white newspaper, the Austin Daily Statesman, suggests that the white press played a significant role in perpetuating the myth of the black “rape fiend.” The headlines of the articles, leave little doubt as to the biases of the white authors and editors in incidents were blacks were accused of violence against whites:
Austin Daily Statesman, April 13, 1893
“Shot and Burned a Murderer.” Incident in Eufaula, Alabama.
“Will Hang for Rape” Incident in Columbus, South Carolina.
These and other articles offered little sympathy for those accused of a crime, rarely assessed the validity of the evidence presented, and often omitted crucial facts pertinent to the story. In many cases, white mob violence was seen as a justifiable behavior when blacks were accused of violent crimes. Guilt was assumed, and the white authors and editors refrained from expressing any disgust or disdain for the total disregard for justice. Mob violence often resulted in someone being lynched, or even more horrifying, being tied down and burned to death.