MONTGOMERY, Ala., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- After a five year investigation and 160 visits to states throughout the South, the Equal Justice Initiative found Florida led the Southern states in the number of lynchings per capita from 1880 to 1940 and documented scores more "racial terror lynchings" than previously reported.
The EJI said there were 3,959 lynchings of African Americans in 12 Southern states between 1877 and 1950, which is up to 700 more than previously reported in these states. These acts of racial terrorism were treated like spectator events, the organization said. African American men were hanged, tortured and burned alive while white families enjoyed picnic lunches and a festival-like atmosphere.
"These lynchings were not 'frontier justice,' because they generally took place in communities where there was a functioning criminal justice system that was deemed too good for African Americans," the organization wrote in a report. "Terror lynchings were horrific acts of violence whose perpetrators were never held accountable. Indeed, some 'public spectacle lynchings' were attended by the entire white community and conducted as celebratory acts of racial control and domination."
The EJI report said between the Civil War and World War II "racial terror lynching" was at a peak with 12 Southern states the most active: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Of those, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana ranked in the top three, with 586, 576 and 540 lynchings respectively between 1877 and 1950. Florida ranked first with 0.594 lynchings for every 100,000 residents. The EJI said most lynchings in the time period could be classified in one or more category, including fear of interracial sex, in response to social transgressions, and allegations of a crime.
The report details cases of violence against African Americans, from an Alabama man lynched for referring to a white police officer without using the title "mister" to a Mississippi man lynched for accidentally bumping a white girl as he ran for a train.
EJI founder Bryan Stevenson said he hopes to spark a national conversation about the country's racial divide and bring more attention to the nation's racial history.
"Lynching and the terror era shaped the geography, politics, economics and social characteristics of being black in America during the 20th century," Stevenson told the New York Times.