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Michigan State University

African American Studies Research Guide: Outrageous Justice : Riots, Lynchings, False Accusations, and Court Trials


A collection of web sites highlighting some of the worst injustices in the history of African Americans.


Selected web pages, A-E

 Amistad Trial, 1839-1840 from the Famous American Trials Web Page.  The improbable voyage of the schooner Amistad, and the court proceedings and diplomatic maneuverings that resulted from that voyage, form one of the most significant stories of the nineteenth century. When Steven Spielberg chose the Amistad case as the subject of his 1997 feature film, he finally brought it the attention the case had long deserved, but never received.

1906 Atlanta Race Riot (American Masters/PBS). Born in 1900, young Margaret Mitchell was profoundly influenced by a violent race riot perpetrated by white mobs against innocent blacks. The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 ravaged her home city and haunted the hub of the South for decades.

1906 Atlanta Race Riot (wikipedia entry). During the summer of 1906, white fears of African Americans’ increasing economic and social power, sensationalized rhetoric from white politicians, and unsubstantiated news stories about a black crime wave created a powder keg of racial tension in Atlanta.  The powder keg exploded on the night of September 22nd in what became known as the Atlanta Race Riot. By the time the riot ended on September 25th, at least 25 blacks and two whites lay dead.

1906 Atlanta Race Riot.  New Georgia Encyclopedia entry.

Walter White Recalls Defending Home and Hearth (History Matters).  The riots that broke out between 1898 and 1906 were part of a pattern of anti-black violence that included several hundred lynchings each year. One of the most savage race riots in these years erupted in Atlanta on September 22, 1906 after vague reports of African Americans harassing white women. Over five days at least ten black people were killed while Atlanta’s police did nothing to protect black citizens, going so far as to confiscate guns from black Atlantans while allowing whites to remain armed. In this selection from his memoirs, Walter White, the future head of the NAACP recalled how, at age 13, he and his father defended their home from white rioters.

"When Blacks Succeed: The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot" (YouTube) part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6.

Brownsville Affair via wikipedia.  A “racial incident that arose out of tensions between black soldiers and white citizens in Brownsville, Texas, in 1906. When a white bartender was killed and a police officer wounded by gunshot, townspeople accused the members of the 25th Infantry Regiment, a unit of Buffalo Soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Brown. Although commanders said the soldiers had been in the barracks all night, evidence was planted against them.”  For more information visit Serial Set, Volume 5078 (Senate Document 155, 59h Congress, 2nd Session)   “Summary Discharge or Mustering Out of Regiments or Companies. Message from the President of the U.S. Transmitting a Report from the Secretary of War Together with Several Documents, Including a Letter of General Nettleton, and Memoranda as to Precedents for the Summary Discharge of Mustering Out of Regiments or Companies”  Note : access restricted to the MSU Community or other subscribers.

Celia, A Slave by Melton A. McLaurin.  Melton Alonza McLaurin has written a definitive account of Celia, and what happened to her (both before, and after, the murder of Robert Newsom).  Courtesy of Awesome Stories.

Chicago Race Riot of 1919 / History Channel

Chicago Race Riot of 1919 / Susan OHalloran via YouTube.

Chicago Race Riots of 1919 / Powerpoint by Sarah Bailey with list of sources.

Detroit Race Riots, 1943

Detroit Race Riots, 1943 via NewsOne.

Detroit Race Riots, 1943 by Vivian M. Baulch and Patricia Zacharias / The Detroit News via Rearview Mirror.

Detroit Race Riots, 1943 via wikipedia.

Detroit Race Riots, 1943 via Reuther Library (Wayne State University).

Detroit Riots of 1967.

Detroit Riots of 1967 - Detroit Burning, Photos from the 12th Street Riot via Time.

Dred Scott Case Collection (Revised).  In 1846, Dred Scott and his wife Harriet filed suit for their freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. This suit began an eleven-year legal fight that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark decision declaring that Scott remain a slave. This decision contributed to rising tensions between the free and slave states just before the American Civil War.  The records displayed in this exhibit document the Scotts' early struggle to gain their freedom through litigation and are the only extant records of this significant case as it was heard in the St. Louis Circuit Court.  The original Dred Scott case file is located in the Office of the St. Louis Circuit Clerk.

Duluth (Minnesoto) Lynchings Online Resource, Historical Documents Relating to the Tragic Events of June 15, 1920.  The Duluth Lynchings Online Resource provides an opportunity to remember and learn from this tragic incident in Minnesota history. With the activities of the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial Committee (CJMMC) — a citizen group dedicated to the remembrance of the three lynching victims — and the Duluth Branch of the NAACP, the lynchings have begun to be studied more extensively. The 2000 publication of Michael Fedo’s The Lynchings in Duluth by the MHS Press has also spurred new interest in the lynchings. The Minnesota Historical Society now presents this web site to provide an in-depth and scholarly resource of primary source materials on the subject, designed also for those unfamiliar with this tragic event. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Each Dot on This Map is a Place Where a Person of Color Was Lynched. A new web site maps lynching victims in the United States. In total, in the century after the Civil War, as many as 5,000 people of color were lynched by mobs in the United States. In the 1890s, on average, nine people were lynched each month. A new website documents each known death on a map, often along with gruesome details about the killing and the size of the crowd.”

The Elaine Race Riot, 1919, Part 1, Part 2. Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.  This engaging 20 minute documentary, narrated by Ossie Davis, tells the story of the 1919 race riot in Elaine, Arkansas. Through this important early chapter in the Civil Rights Movement, African American farmers in the Delta region experienced great tragedy, fought for social justice, and ultimately found vindication in the US Supreme Court.


Selected web pages, F-P

Ferguson Resources Library Guide from Michigan State University Libraries.

Ferguson Resources Library Guide from the University of Arizona.

George Zimmerman Trial & Trayvon Martin Case - CBS News

1917 Houston Race Riot, for more information see DeNeen L.Brown, "Seeking Justice for the Mass Hanging of Black Soldiers After the Bloody 1917 Houston Riots", Washington Post, August 24, 2017.

Los Angeles Police Officer (Rodney King Beating) Trials,  1992-1993, part of the Famous Trials web page.  It seemed like an open-and-shut case.  The George Holliday video, played on television so often that an executive at CNN called it "wallpaper," showed three Los Angeles police officers--as their supervisor watched-- kicking, stomping on, and beating with metal batons a seemingly defenseless African-American named Rodney King.  Polls taken shortly after the incident showed that over 90% of Los Angeles residents who saw the videotape believed that the police used excessive force in arresting King.  Despite the videotape, a jury in Simi Valley concluded a year later that the evidence was not sufficient to convict the officers.  Was the all-white jury racist, as some charged, or did they see something in the evidence ....

Loving vs. Virginia (1967).  In this case, the United States Supreme Court concluded that the Virginia law which prohibited Blacks and whites from marrying in the state or marrying elsewhere and returning  was unconstitutional.  The Court asserted, "[t]he fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy." The site contains the Supreme Court opinions and also the oral argument before the Court.  For another reference, visit the Encyclopedia of Virginia.

Lynch Law in All Its Phases (Feb. 13, 1893).  An 1893 address by African American activist and writer Ida B. Wells. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project

Lynch Law in America.  Article by Ida B. Wells-Barnett appearing in The Arena 23.1 (January 1900): 15-24.

Lynching (Spartacus Educational, UK)

Lynching In America : Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.  Equal Justice Initiative, 2015.  documents EJI’s multi-year investigation into lynching in twelve Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II. EJI researchers documented 3959 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950 – at least 700 more lynchings of black people in these states than previously reported in the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date....Lynching in America makes the case that lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. This was not “frontier justice” carried out by a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists. Instead, many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person. People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity. Not a single white person was convicted of murder for lynching a black person in America during this period.

Lynching in America : Statistics, Information, Images.

Mississippi Burning Trial, 1967, part of the Famous Trials web page.  It was an old-fashioned lynching, carried out with the help of county officials, that came to symbolize hardcore resistance to integration.  Dead were three civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, all shot in the dark of night on a lonely road in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Many people predicted such a tragedy when the Mississippi Summer Project, an effort that would bring hundreds of college-age volunteers to "the most totalitarian state in the country" was announced  in April, 1964.  The FBI's all-out search for the conspirators who killed the three young men, two white and one black, depicted in the movie "Mississippi Burning," was successful, leading three years later to a trial in the  courtroom of one of America's most determined segregationist judges....

The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950.  Article by Robert A. Gibson.  The United States has a brutal history of domestic violence. It is an ugly episode in our national history that has long been neglected. Of the several varieties of American violence, one type stands out as one of the most inhuman chapters in the history of the world—the violence committed against Negro citizens in America by white people. This unit of post Reconstruction Afro-American history will examine anti-Black violence from the 1880s to the 1950s. The phenomenon of lynching and the major race riots of this period, called the American Dark Ages by historian Rayford W. Logan, will be covered. Courtesy of the Yale University-New Haven Teachers Institute, 2010.

Negro Plot Trials, 1741, part of the Famous Trials web page.  In 1741, English colonists in New York City felt anxious.  They worried about Spanish and French plans to gain control of North America.  They felt threatened by a recent influx of Irish immigrants, whose Catholicism might incline them to accept jobs as Spanish spies.  And, above all, they feared that the city's growing slave population, now numbering about 20% of the 11,000 residents of Manhattan and increasingly competing with white tradesmen for jobs, might revolt.  When a series of thirteen fires broke out in March and April of 1741, English colonists suspected a negro plot--perhaps one involving poor whites.  Much as in Salem a half century before, hysteria came to colonial America, and soon New York City's jails were filled to overflowing. In the end, despite grave questions about the contours of the suspected conspiracy, thirty-four defendants were executed.  Thirteen black men burned at the stake and seventeen more hanged.  In addition, four alleged white ringleaders--two men and two women--made trips to New York City's gallows...

O. J. Simpson Trial (1997).  This site, part of the  Famous Trials Project by Professor Doug Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, includes an account of the trial, excerpts from the trial transcript, a chrononlogy, maps, photographs, a bibliography, and a list of relevant links.

Panic in Detroit : 40 Years Later.  A special report on the 1967 Detroit Riots by the Detroit Free Press.

The Press and Lynchings of African Americans. A summary of an article by Richard M. Perloff,Cleveland State University appearing in Journal of Black Studies, January, 2000, pp. 315-330.

Selected Web Pages, R-Z

Racial Violence in America: Lynchings, 1877 to 1920.  The History Institute, Columbus, Ohio.

Remembering Rosewood.  Rosewood was a small Black community in Florida.  Following an alleged attack on a white woman by an unidentified Black man on January 1, 1923, white vigilantes killed  several Blacks, burned all the buildings in the town, and forced the Black residents to flee into the woods in fear for their lives. 

Rosewood Victims v. State of Florida.  This site contains the Special Master's Report of March 24, 1994, on an equitable claim against the State of Florida asserted by the former residents and descendants of former residents of Rosewood seeking compensation for the deaths of their relatives, the loss of their property, and the emotional and physical injuries inflicted upon them.  The Report summarizes the massacre, the introduction of the Bill seeking compensation, the appointment of the academic research team, and the arguments in favor of and against compensation.  Among other things, the Special Master recommended that the each elderly claimant who sustained emotional trauma as a result of the destruction and forced evacuation be compensated in the amount of $150,000.

Scottsboro Boys Digital Collection of the MSU Libraries.

The Scottsboro Boys Trial, 1931-1937, part of the Famous American Trials web page.  No crime in American history-- let alone a crime that never occurred-- produced as many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged gang rape of two white girls by nine black teenagers on a Southern Railroad freight run on March 25, 1931.  Over the course of the two decades that followed, the struggle for justice of the "Scottsboro Boys," as the black teens were called, made celebrities out of anonymities, launched and ended careers, wasted lives, produced heroes, opened southern juries to blacks, exacerbated sectional strife, and divided America's political left.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing.  On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and killed four little girls. These powerful images, newspaper clippings, and documents show the immediate and widespread destruction of the tragedy and heartbreak that inspired a movement.  Courtesy of the Birmingham Public Library.

Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860.  Contains just over a hundred pamphlets and books (published between 1772 and 1889) concerning the difficult and troubling experiences of African and African-American slaves in the American colonies and the United States. The documents, most from the Law Library and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, comprise an assortment of trials and cases, reports, arguments, accounts, examinations of cases and decisions, proceedings, journals, a letter, and other works of historical importance. Of the cases presented here, most took place in America and a few in Great Britain. Among the voices heard are those of some of the defendants and plaintiffs themselves as well as those of abolitionists, presidents, politicians, slave owners, fugitive and free territory slaves, lawyers and judges, and justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Significant names include John Quincy Adams, Roger B. Taney, John C. Calhoun, Salmon P. Chase, Dred Scott, William H. Seward, Prudence Crandall, Theodore Parker, Jonathan Walker, Daniel Drayton, Castner Hanway, Francis Scott Key, William L. Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Denmark Vesey, and John Brown.  Slaves and the Courts was made possible by a generous gift from the Citigroup Foundation.  Part of the Library of Congress, American Memory Project.

Springfield Race Riot of 1908.  Illinois History Teacher, 1996.

Sweet Trails, 1925-1926 (Detroit, Michigan).  Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African-American, purchased a home in a previously all-white neighborhood in Detriot, Michigan, in 1925.  Shortly after he and his family moved in a mob gathered outside, and rocks hit the house.  Shots rang out from the house, and one hit and killed one of Sweet's new neighbors who was on his porch.  The police then arrested all eleven occupants of the Sweet home, and they were all charged with first-degree murder.  Clarence Darrow, the most famous defense attorney of the time, represented the defendants.  This site,  also part  of the  Famous Trials Project, includes accounts of the trials, a chrononlogy, excerpts from the trial transcripts, Darrow's summations, a speech by Darrow on race relations, photographs, and a bibliography.

“Their Own Hotheadedness”: Senator Benjamin R. “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman Justifies Violence Against Southern Blacks.  In this March 23, 1900, speech before the U.S. Senate, Senator Benjamin R. “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman of South Carolina defended the actions of his white constituents who had murdered several black citizens of his home state. Tillman blamed the violence on the “hot-headedness” of Southern blacks and on the misguided efforts of Republicans during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War to “put white necks under black heels.” He also defended violence against black men, claiming that southern whites “will not submit to [the black man] gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him”—an evocation of the deeply sexualized racist fantasies of many Southern whites.  History Matters.

The Trial of Sheriff Joseph Shipp, et al. 1907-1908 :  The United States Supreme Court has only conducted one criminal trial in its history.  It resulted in the conviction of a sheriff, a deputy, and four members of a lynch mob on charges of criminal contempt.   An apparently innocent Black man, convicted of raping a white woman, was lynched even though the Supreme Court had stayed his scheduled execution.  This site, part of the Famous Trials Project , includes an account of the trial, a chrononlogy, biographies of key figures, excerpts from the trial transcript, he Supreme Court decision, 214 U.S. 386 (1909), newspaper articles, photographs, and a bibliography.

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Tulsa Race Riot of 1921Tulsa's Greenwood district is the site of one of the most devastating race disturbances in the history of the United States. Before May 31, 1921, Tulsa's black business district known as Greenwood flourished in spite of segregation. It boasted of several restaurants, theaters, clothing shops and hotels. Dubbed the "Black Wall Street," Greenwood was an economic powerhouse....After May 31, 1921, Greenwood would never be the same. The tension mounted between the black and white communities over an incident that allegedly occurred in an elevator at Drexel building in downtown Tulsa involving Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white elevator operator, and Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old black man. There are several versions of what supposedly transpired, but the most common being that Dick Rowland accidentally stepped on Page's foot in the elevator, throwing her off balance. When Rowland reached out to keep her from falling, she screamed. Many Tulsans came to believe through media reports that Rowland attacked Page although no sufficient evidence surfaced to substantiate the claim. The incident was further escalated by a local newspaper headline that encouraged the public to "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator."...The strained relationship between the white and black communities, the heightened jealousy of the success of the Black Wall Street area and the elevator encounter led to the Tulsa Race Riot....Armed white men looted, burned and destroyed the black community. When the smoke cleared, mere shells of buildings were all that remained of the business district. The Red Cross estimates that more than 300 people were killed and approximately 1,200 homes were destroyed....A compilation of resources by the Tulsa City-County Library African American Resource Center.

Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 Archive Photographs. Courtesy of the University of Tulsa, McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives.

Tulsa Race Riot of 1921:  Allison Keyes, "A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921", -An Oklahoma lawyer details the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood where hundreds died 95 years ago

Tulsa Race Riot : the Destruction of the Black Wall Street. History Teaching Institute, Columbus, Ohio.

Tulsa Race Riot : The Report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

Tulsa Reparations Coalition.  This site, from a group seeking reparations to living survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921, has accounts of survivors, the complete text of the 2001 Final Report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, links to other online resources, and other suggested readings.

Violence in the City: An End or a Beginning?

1898 Wilmington : Debunking the Myths.

Wilmington on Fire : The Wilmington Massacre was a bloody attack on the African-American community by a heavily armed white mob with the support of the North Carolina Democratic Party on November 10, 1898 in the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. It is considered one of the only successful examples of a coup d'état in the United States that left countless numbers of African-American citizens dead and exiled from the city. This event was the spring board for the white supremacy movement and Jim Crow segregation throughout the state of North Carolina and the American South. “Wilmington on Fire” gives a compelling historical and present day look at this event showing how the violent overthrow of an existing government not only cemented white supremacy in the city of Wilmington and the state of North Carolina but also throughout the United States of America.

1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission.  North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

Wilmington Race Riots of 1898.  2006 article from NCpedia by the State Library of North Carolina.

Wilmington Race Riots of 1898.  2010 article from NCpedia by the State Library of North Carolina.

Wilmington (N.C.) Race Riot of 1898 from

Wilmington Race Riots of 1898, Early African American Perspectives. 

Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in AmericaSearching through America's past for the last 25 years, collector James Allen uncovered an extraordinary visual legacy: photographs and postcards taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout America.  With essays by Hilton Als, Leon Litwack, Congressman John Lewis and James Allen, these photographs have been published as a book "Without Sanctuary" by Twin Palms Publishers . Features will be added to this site over time and it will evolve into an educational tool. Please be aware before entering the site that much of the material is very disturbing. We welcome your comments and input through the forum section.  Experience the images as a flash movie with narrative comments by James Allen, or as a gallery of photos which will grow to over 100 photos in coming weeks. Participate in a forum about the images, and contact us if you know of other similar postcards and photographs.

Subject Guide

Erik Ponder's picture
Erik Ponder
African Studies Librarian
MSU Libraries
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Michigan State University