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.

MORE GOOD READS: 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.

DID YOU KNOW? We have distilled the media we have curated into five guided learning paths to help you learn about racism in your preferred learning style.


Fresh Air: As New Lynching Memorial Opens, A Look Back On America’s History Of Racial Terrorism

More curated books on racism:

BOOK: The Color of Compromise

To this day church services across the nation are some of the most segregated times of the week. Is this by random chance or was this intentional? Author Jemar Tisby details the sordid history of the American church and its complicity with racism in the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Color of Compromise.

Read more

BOOK: Worse Than Slavery

A history of another brutal part of America’s past that is glossed over Worse Than Slavery tells the story of convict leasing, a thinly veiled system of slavery, through the songs of convicts, court documents, and local newspapers.

Read more

BOOK: The Gospel in Color

Grounded in Genesis in the Imago Dei The Gospel in Color firmly traces the evolution of racism back to the garden of Eden when sin entered the world. But, Jesus coming into the world and dying on a cross allows us to be reconciled to him while modeling what it takes to be reconciled to each other.

Read more

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