Lynching in the 20th Century: Key Documents

by Professor Alex Lichtenstein, IU Dept of History

This pamphlet, printed in 1934, advertises an organizational meeting of the International Labor Defense to organize a protest on behalf of the Scottsboro defendents. Notice the concern over “bloody lynchers” and the cruelties of the Southern prison system.


Also in 1934, the NAACP rallied behind a federal anti-lynching bill sponsored by Senators Robert F. Wagner and Edward Costigan. The bill stipulated that lynchers, as well as state officials who did not enforce the law, would be punished and fined for their actions. Southern senators defeated the bill by filibuster.


In this letter, from April 2, 1931, Dr. P. A. Stephens, a black physician and president of the Methodist Episcopal Church Layman’s Association, asks the NAACP for support defending the “Scottsboro boys.” The NAACP and the International Labor Defense vied for the right to represent the wrongly accused in their several retrials. The NAACP lost the bid because at the time, it lacked a full-time legal staff.



A 1944 letter from Harry T. Moore, president of the Florida NAACP, to Thurgood Marshall, then senior counsel for the NAACP  (he would later become a Supreme Court Justice).  Moore describes the difficulty of bringing lynch mobs to trial–particularly when local members of the police and justice system may have actively participated in the lynchings. Moore and his wife, Harriette, were killed by a bomb planted under their house by the KKK on Christmas night of 1951.


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