A new study in the "Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities" examines the effect of lynchings from 1877 to 1950 on present-day death rates.
Sociologists have long tried to understand the social and moral justifications behind the lynchings in America’s Deep South, but for the first time a new study titled “Stranger Fruits,” published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, has revealed a connection between them and current death rates. For areas that played home to some of America’s most violent murders of the 20th century, modern-day mortality rates were higher than those in communities that didn’t live under the shadow of violent prejudice.
Researchers compared places where lynchings took place between 1877 and 1950 — the period of time when the majority happened — with mortality rates from 2010 to 2014 in the same area. They noticed higher death rates for both white men and women, and African-American women, and that even when the data was adjusted to reflect other social issues that could influence the number — like health insurance, education levels, local unemployment rates — the results were still the same.
It brings in to question the physiological impact of decades of brutal public torture on contemporary communities. “Not much research has been done on the long-term consequences of this phenomenon,” explains Saundra Glover, co-author of the study. “Our study was just a first analysis that we hope will spark the interests of other researchers to pick up on what we have done, improve on it and expand it to include other relevant issues.”
The study is set to be a tipping point for how researchers tackle racism. Rather than look at the issue through a softer lens, the authors want to kick-start a harder interrogation of what years of brutal violence does to our collective psyches. “Education must address racism as a root cause of health inequities and other forms of discrimination that may still exist today,” says Glover. “A society in which people were as cognizant of the things they have in common as of the things that separate us might create better institutions for all.”
It seems logical that extensive violent, brutal and public murders would have a profound impact on death rates, but lynchings seem to be unique form of terror. The study clearly differentiates other forms of mass murders and mob-style lynchings, where crowds were encouraged to witness and the perpetrators managed to evade the usual laws that under pin our sense of moral justice, reading, “The common image of a hanged individual surrounded by a white crowd portrays how extensive torture frequently preceded the eventual death, and mutilation of the body by the assembled crowd was expected.”
Glover went on reiterate how this is only the first step towards understanding how historical events continue to mould our lives: “It speaks to the significance of attacking issues at their root to prevent them from continuing to grow, fester, and have long-term impact on generations after generations.”