Defining Lynching Down.

My apologies for being in Shirley Sherrod overdrive recently, but this piece from Jeffrey Lord nearly made my eyes pop out of my head. After reviewing the Screws case, Lord concludes that Sherrod lied about Sheriff Claude Screws lynching Bobby Hall because he and his colleagues simply beat him to death rather than using a rope:

It's also possible that she knew the truth and chose to embellish it, changing a brutal and fatal beating to a lynching. Anyone who has lived in the American South (as my family once did) and is familiar with American history knows well the dread behind stories of lynch mobs and the Klan. What difference is there between a savage murder by fist and blackjack -- and by dangling rope? Obviously, in the practical sense, none. But in the heyday -- a very long time -- of the Klan, there were frequent (and failed) attempts to pass federal anti-lynching laws. None to pass federal "anti-black jack" or "anti-fisticuffs" laws.

A lynching is an extrajudicial mob killing. No one who worked to document the practice of lynching in the South limited the definition of the term to solely include those lynchings that occurred using a rope. Don't believe me? Here's the definition of lynching as described in the 1922 anti-lynching bill introduced by Republican Rep. L.C. Dyer that Lord pretends to know something about:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the phrase "mob or riotous assemblage," when used in this act, shall mean an assemblage composed of three or more persons acting in concert for the purpose of depriving any person of his life without authority of law as a punishment for or to prevent the commission of some actual or supposed public offense.

So Lord concocts a definition of lynching that would only include a narrow number of lynchings, which is a bit like setting the threshold for racism so high that nothing short of having a closet full of white sheets would make you a racist. Also, in case you're curious, yes, that bill died because of the filibuster. This is the description of the Hall killing Lord offers:

The arrest was made late at night at Hall's home on a warrant charging Hall with theft of a tire. Hall, a young negro about thirty years of age, was handcuffed and taken by car to the courthouse. As Hall alighted from the car at the courthouse square, the three petitioners began beating him with their fists and with a solid-bar blackjack about eight inches long and weighing two pounds. They claimed Hall had reached for a gun and had used insulting language as he alighted from the car. But after Hall, still handcuffed, had been knocked to the ground, they continued to beat him from fifteen to thirty minutes until he was unconscious. Hall was then dragged feet first through the courthouse yard into the jail and thrown upon the floor, dying. An ambulance was called, and Hall was removed to a hospital, where he died within the hour and without regaining consciousness.

Now does three guys beating someone to death sound like an extrajudicial mob killing to you? Well Lord thinks it's merely "brutal fisticuffs" because under the definition of lynching he just made up, you need a rope to make it official -- I mean they didn't even set the guy on fire for crying out loud! It's almost as if instead of being a Southerner tortured by the knowledge of past racial injustice, he's someone who didn't know very much about lynching or segregation before he decided to call Shirley Sherrod a liar without bothering to use Google first. What's sad is that when the generation that actually remembers what living under segregation was like is gone, this kind of historical revisionism is just going to get 10 times worse. 

Finally, how many times are conservatives going to try to smear this woman before some sense of shame or decency kicks in?

UPDATE: To their credit, Spectator writers Philip Klein and John Tabin have distanced themselves from the piece.

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