By Philip Dray | Amazon | 560 pages
Published in January of 2003
SUMMARY: Sure, most Americans have heard of lynching and perhaps it was perfunctorily talked about in a high school history class, but few understand how common and ruthlessly callous it was.
From the cutting off of body parts for souvenirs to the postcards sold and sent to friends and family to commemorate the event to the complicity or passivity of local law enforcement the complete lack of disregard for male and female black bodies, and white bodies at times too, should disgust all. This acknowledgement of America’s history and how it affects us today needs to be recognized and talked about if healing is going to occur.
“[B]y far the majority of Negro murders are never recorded, never known except to the perpetrators and the bereaved survivors of the victim,” said a petition entitled We Charge Genocide submitted to the United Nations in 1951. “Negro men and women leave their homes and are never seen alive again.…This is a well-known pattern of American culture.… Mass murder on the basis of race is a powerful source of constant terror, as it is intended to be, to the whole Negro people.
At the Hands of Person’s Unknown comprehensive, chronological look at lynching in America is on the long side but if you can stick it out then you will have a perspective of American history that most people do not.
KEY QUOTE: “Is it possible for white America to really understand blacks’ distrust of the legal system, their fears of racial profiling and the police, without understanding how cheap a black life was for so long a time in our nation’s history?”
BONUS: Don’t have time to read the book? Listen to Dray’s interview on Fresh Air. Skip to 13:10 to hear Dray, but the other conversations are well worth your time as well.
DID YOU KNOW?: Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.