Our Past Betrays Us: Collective Memory, Homicide and Southern Lynching
Gabriel, Ryan Patrick
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Recent sociological research shows enduring impacts of historical patterns of lynching between 1882 and 1930 in the southern U.S. on a variety of modern societal outcomes. In particular, Messner, Baller, and Zevenbergen (2005) find that lynching is associated with contemporary white-on-black homicide. While they link violence to lynching, the mechanisms responsible for this relationship remain obscure. In this paper I define and estimate mediating institutional- and population-based mechanisms that transmit a collective memory of racial domination consistent with lynching that affect modern white-on-black homicide in the South. These mechanisms include: a measure of white-flight segregationist academies, two variables for the level of political support for the segregationist U.S. Presidential candidates, Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, and measures county net-migration rates between 1950 and 1980. Analyses reveal that the positive and significant association between lynching and white-on-black homicide is attenuated and becomes non-significant with the inclusion of all of the mechanisms. I interpret these results to suggest that the racist cultural schema manifested through lynching was transferred to intervening institutions and upheld by population dynamics that influence contemporary white-on-black homicide. These findings have implications for the role of collective memory in explaining temporally distant events and interpersonal racial conflict.
- Sociology