Visualizing Lynchings in the U.S. South, 1877-1950

Using comprehensive lynching data from the Beck-Tolnay Inventory,  I analyzed Southern episodes of lynching from 1877-1950 using Tableau software.

In the storyboard, you can play around with a few important variables (state, race, sex) to see differences in where lynchings took place, and the demographics of the victims. With the maps, you can identify the number of lynchings in an area down to the county level.

If clicking on the map below doesn’t take you to the story, just click here.


Southern Lynchings in the United States: 1877-1950

Petition to Amend or Retract Mississippi Governor’s Proclamation

The University of Mississippi’s Critical Race Studies Group, for which I am currently co-chair, has created a petition through demanding our Governor, Phil Bryant, amend or retract his proclamation that April 2016 be Confederate Heritage Month. You can click the above link to sign and share the petition. Below is the full text:

On February 10th, 2016, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared the month of April 2016 ‘Confederate Heritage Month.’ Governor Bryant has issued similar proclamations in the past, yet this year carries special significance. The murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist with an affinity for Confederate imagery led to protests and calls for the removal of Confederate iconography from public spaces across the nation. In addition, Bryant’s proclamation preceded the Mississippi Legislature’s failure to act upon nineteen different bills proposing a change to the stage flag. It remains the only state flag in the US that bears the Confederate battle flag in its emblem.

In his proclamation, Governor Bryant declares that “it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities that lie before us.”

The 1861 Mississippi Declaration of Secession stated plainly “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.” In spite of this, Governor Bryant’s proclamation makes no mention of the millions of enslaved men, women, and children who suffered and died in captivity, or the Confederate cause to keep them in bondage. As citizens of this State, we ask that Governor Bryant clarify what specifically about our nation’s past he intends that we reflect on; what insight is to be gained from the error of owning other human beings and, in turn, fighting for that right; and to make clear the specific mistakes and successes of the Confederacy, so that we can not only come to a fuller understanding of our shared heritage, but learn from it.

Therefore, whereas the history of the Confederacy consisted of the victimization of state enslaved men, women, and children of African descent in the four-year period of 1861-1865; and

Whereas the influence of the Confederacy allowed the continuation of the victimization of millions of black Americans within Mississippi and elsewhere following their emancipation in 1865; including state-sponsored denial of economic, educational, health, and socio-political rights; and

Whereas Confederate Heritage Month, Confederate Memorial Day, and other commemorative events surrounding the Confederacy and its legacy risk the perpetuation of false values and narratives without well-defined grounds, goals, or necessities for such proclamations;

Now, Therefore, we, as citizens of Mississippi, and friends across the world, call upon Mississippi’s elected officials to recognize the pain and suffering of its enslaved population, and honor their survival; while also recognizing the continued effects of this dreadful past on our present. We call upon Governor Bryant and other elected officials to make good on their claims of civic enlightenment through economic and political support for statewide efforts to tell richer and more factually accurate narratives of our state history, through social science public education, creative arts programs, and cross-racial dialogues. We insist that only a deliberate and intentional reckoning with this shameful legacy of injustice will carry us through to a better tomorrow. Until that reckoning, we reject the validity of Governor Bryant’s proclamation, and call upon Governor Bryant to either (1) clarify his intentions or (2) retract it entirely.


The University of Mississippi Critical Race Studies Group and The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation

New Book is Out!

I’m late in announcing this, but my latest book, Affective Labour: (Dis)Assembling Distance and Difference (with Jennifer G. Correa) is now available as a hardback, paperback, and e-book. If you buy directly from Rowman and Littlefield, you can use the following promotional code and save 30%: RLI093

Below are some of the reviews:

Thomas and Correa offer an important empirical study of affective labor’s central role in sustaining two pillars of inequality: racial difference and socio-spatial distance. Noteworthy for its comparative and relational approaches, Affective Labour reveals the entwinements between racism and affect in everyday practices and places.
Paula Ioanide, Associate Professor of Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies, Ithaca College

In this theoretically groundbreaking yet remarkably accessible book, Thomas and Correa establish a strong case for why affect should matter to scholars of race and racism, as well as to activists working for social justice. Affective Labour describes the painstaking work of identification, the crafting of difference, and the production of social distance, in effect asking how forms of violence and exclusion become imaginable or unimaginable. The book takes the reader on an intellectual journey from a college-town bar scene to the US-Mexico border, through the contemporary diversity regimes of predominantly white institutions. The authors then bring the lessons from these case studies to bear on the emergent affective politics of Black Lives Matter and similar radical democratic social movements. In spite of the grimly neoliberal landscapes of difference and inequality it explores, Affective Labour remains optimistic in its evocation of coming into being and the potential for an affect of liberation in progressive politics. ​
Rebecca R. Scott, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia

Bringing together critical social, cultural and political analysis, phenomenology and original ethnographic research, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the politics of affect. Thomas and Correa provide an imaginative and incisive account of how the manufacturing of gendered, racialised, sexualised, and classed relations of distance and difference is a matter of affective labour. Through a diverse range of in depth examples – from American nightlife cultures, to University diversity-initiatives, to the #BlackLivesMatter movement – the book offers a refreshing and distinctive examination of the affective work of everyday life and its wider critical implications. The analysis offered is at once productively troubling and optimistic: Contemporary forms of affective labour frequently work to reproduce relations of domination, but they also fuel solidarity, resistance and ‘a sense of hope for what can be, despite the reality of what is’.
Carolyn Pedwell, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies/Cultural Sociology, University of Kent

Thomas and Correa’s expansive research into distance and difference takes us on an immersive journey into configurations of affective subjectivity – from above and below. Carefully crafted case studies of urban nightlife in Columbia, Missouri, ‘War on Terror’ at the US-Mexico border, diversity regimes in higher education, and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, underline why affect should be of critical concern to social, cultural and political theorists. Affective Labour is an original and timely contribution that will have implications for how we approach the politics of difference in the classroom, the polity and on the street.
Christopher Kyriakides, Associate Professor of Sociology, York University, Canada

A Brief (and Incomplete!) History of St. Louis Police Brutality

Like many, I was hurt and horrified by the death of eighteen-year old Mike Brown, of Ferguson, Missouri, this past weekend. Growing up in the central city of Kansas City, Missouri, I was not unfamiliar with police violence against black and brown communities of color. However, it appears many Americans are unfamiliar with these experiences. For example, stories about Sunday night’s riot are now being framed as “just another example” for why black and brown communities need policing, rather than as a response to a collective memory of state-sanctioned violence against those communities, including the death of Mike Brown.

Motivated by the ignorance and garden-variety tropes of white racism I’ve seen this morning on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve put together a VERY brief and INCOMPLETE history of St. Louis Police Brutality over the past one hundred years. I used the archives of The Chicago Defender from 1905 through 1975, and the Lexus Nexus database for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to the present, I ran a search for the term “police brutality”. The information below was compiled based on this very narrow search.

I would love for others to help crowd-source more information here, especially if there are any incidents I’ve missed, or failed to accurately summarize.

My goal with the timeline below is to demonstrate that incidents like what happened in Ferguson do not stand on their own. They represent a greater historical narrative, whereby collective memories — and responses — are shaped by the totality of these incidents. A great quote that, I think, captures the response of the rioters last night is from the late Martin Luther King, Jr., in a 1966 interview with Mike Wallace:

I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.


A Brief (and Incomplete) History of St. Louis Police Brutality

May, 1917: Three thousand white men gathered in downtown East St. Louis and began attacking blacks. Nonresponse by the police led to the Illinois governor to call in the National Guard. Some evidence of police participating in attacks.

July, 1917: A car occupied by white males drove through East St. Louis, firing shots at a standing group of blacks. Shortly thereafter, another car driving through the same area was mistaken for the previous car, and black residents shot at it, killing two police officers in the car. Thousands of whites marched into the black neighborhood of East St. Louis and began burning entire sections, shooting residents as they tried to escape the fires. Rioters lynched several black residents, claiming, “Southern negroes deserve a genuine lynching.” National guardsmen who were called in participated in the rioting, rather than helping to squash it. The Chicago Defender, led by Ida B. Wells, estimates between 40-150 blacks were killed that July. Six thousand blacks were left homeless.

November, 1923: Reports emerge that “whenever a crime has been committed and the perpetrator wishes to conceal his guilt, or the authorities are at a loss to solve the riddle,” St. Louis police often report that the crime was committed by a black person.

November, 1928: Grand jury ordered to convene as the result of a fatal shooting of a 20-year old man by a St. Louis patrolman. Three eye witnesses voluntary appeared to testify against the officer.

October, 1929: Black leadership calls upon then-Missouri Governor Henry Caulfield to end the “murdering of our people and the numerous brutalities they suffer at the hands of the police” in St. Louis

September, 1933: Members of the Clothing Workers Union complained to Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann that they had been beaten by police during a parade

September, 1941: A STL cop beats a black hospital patient. This attack led to the STL branch of the NAACP beginning a movement against police brutality against blacks.

July, 1965: About 40 demonstrators paraded in front of a city police station protesting alleged police brutality. The John Birch Society denounced a proposed investigation into the charges.

July, 1967: Dance choreographer Katherine Dunham begins legal action against East St. Louis police charging they “manhandled and arrested” her on false charges.

August, 1971: Joseph Lee Wilson, 37, had been drinking heavily and had passed out shortly after midnight in the back yard of his mother’s house in the Third Police District. After she called for assistance, she and others contend, police beat him. An employee of old City Hospital said that Wilson, already suffering from massive injuries, was even beaten by St. Louis policemen when he was on a hospital table. Wilson was found dead in the holdover at 5:45 a.m. An autopsy showed that he had suffered seven fractured ribs, a punctured lung, a ruptured pancreas and lacerations of the liver. The official police version, adopted by the coroner, was that Wilson had fallen from a stool in a tavern on Chippewa Street. Syndicated columnist Mike Royko likened that to falling from a bar stool atop Chicago’s 100-story, 1,127-foot John Hancock Tower.

March, 1977: Following a car chase, two young men who had been in the car that led the chase were beaten. It was estimated that as many as 50 police officers were on hand to see at least part of the beating. Two Third District police officers were indicted for assault with intent to maim with malice. Other police officers were suspended for not cooperating with a grand jury investigation. Circuit Attorney George Peach was furious with departmental obstruction. He called it a ”conspiracy of silence.” And, in the end, it was impossible to prove who actually had administered the beatings. One of the indicted police officers was later acquitted; he is now a lieutenant in the department.

January, 1989: Seventy five people gather in front of the 6th District police station to protest a St. Louis police attack on a 15-year old girl.

June, 1991: University City police arrest a man for illegally skateboarding on a sidewalk in the Delmar Loop. Four witnesses report the man was handcuffed and beaten by a group of at least five officers.

October, 1993: Harry B. Hegger, Internal Affairs officer, claims his division handles roughly a hundred or more cases of physical abuse per year.

October, 1993: The Organization for Black Struggle, along with other community groups and activists, charges that for at least 10 years incidents of police brutality are rampant in St. Louis city and the metropolitan area. These allegations include: The continued employment of racist officers on the St. Louis and University City police departments, beatings and Russian roulette games police play with suspects, a special anti-black unit in the Belleville Police Department, and rampant car and property seizures.

October, 1993: In a hearing sponsored by the NAACP, Clarence Harmon, the first black police chief of St. Louis, stated police officers often project fears onto black residents: ‘There are tensions related to sometimes unrealistic fears of officers who traverse high crime areas . . . unrealistic fears as to their safety, which cause for not a great relationship between themselves and the community.” In that same meeting, Joyce Armstrong, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, said 52 percent of the complaints made to her office were against police departments in Florissant, Jennings, Beverly Hills, Breckenridge Hills, Dellwood and Maplewood. She said 30 percent were complaints against the city police.

October, 1993: About a dozen people picketed two St. Louis police stations Sunday night, alleging brutality by police officers in the arrests of three suspects earlier in the day.

October, 1993: Frontenac Police Chief Benjamin Branch has taken an administrative leave to investigate allegations of police brutality and civil rights violations by his department. That June, Branch, 16 Frontenac police officers and five dispatchers were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury to answer questions about police brutality in Frontenac.

January, 1996: Garland Carter Jr., 17., shot and killed, in the back, by a St. Louis police officer.

January, 1997: Post-Dispatch reports that at least 11 people have died in police custody in the St. Louis area since 1990 while in the throes of a mysterious, often violent medical condition called agitated delirium, a review of death records shows. In all, at least 20 people have died from the syndrome here over the last decade – 14 of those after police restrained them.

April, 1997: Gregory Bell, suffering from a developmental disability, is beaten by police officers until bloody. As many as 12 police officers were in his home during the beating, which included five blows to the head with an ASP baton. only one officer was charged with a crime. He was acquitted in May.

May, 1999: Two officers charged with the death of a nineteen year old. The police report — which made no mention of blows to the teenager’s head — is inconsistent with the medical examiner’s report that the victim suffered a massive skull fracture caused by a blow with an object to the back of his head.

May, 1999: A review showed that between 1994 and 1998, sixty people were shot by city officers, with twenty four of them dying. Brutality was charged in many of those cases

March, 2001: The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday appointed a 10-member committee to review two incidents in the past year involving county police that led to the deaths of three people.

June, 2002: Leaving a Coalition Against Police Crimes and Oppression meeting, Victor McKinney, 25, was hand-cuffed and body-slammed to the ground by two officers. Roughly 100 people gather at police headquarters to protest the incident.

September, 2002: A Kinloch police officer said he accidentally shot a motorist during a traffic stop. The officer suspected the motorist, a 24-year-old man from Bridgeton, was involved with a drug transaction. Police did not find any drugs on the suspect. The suspect was unarmed.

November, 2002: Aldermen Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward, proposed forming a panel to investigate police shootings and allegations of brutality and other misconduct

May, 2003: About 50 protesters gathered outside the Pine Lawn City Hall and Police Department Thursday night, claiming police officers there have abused African-Americans in the city. “They are here to protect us, not beat us,” Brian Brooks told the crowd. “We’re paying their salaries.” Brooks said police beat him with a metal baton or flashlight and sprayed him with Mace in his driveway after he got into an argument with his wife on May 4. He said he was later beaten for several hours at the Police Department, where a gun was pointed at his head by a police officer. Another man, Willie Payne, said he was beaten by officers, including one accused of attacking Brooks, after his car was stopped in Pine Lawn. He said officers choked him, held his mouth open and sprayed Mace into it, pulled his shirt over his head and beat him. Justin Meehan, an attorney assisting the men, said they had made complaints to the Police Department. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also looking into the claims, Meehan said.

October, 2003: Protesters demanding better treatment from police blocked traffic on downtown streets Wednesday night and burned an effigy of “white racist power” in a park across the street from St. Louis City Hall. The crowd swelled to about 200 people, as several activist groups led by the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression called for the city to establish a board to review complaints of police brutality. A bill proposing such a board is locked in a battle between aldermen and Mayor Francis Slay over who would appoint the board members and what powers they would have.

February, 2006: About 40 people gathered outside Maplewood City Hall to seek justice for a man whose beating and kicking by Maplewood and St. Louis police has been televised coast-to-coast.

September 2013: A former Velda City police officer is facing federal charges of excessive force and lying to FBI agents. A federal indictment alleges Stan Lee Stanback, 47, used unreasonable force using a police baton to hit and injure two juveniles and an adult on Sept. 17, 2008. Stanback is also accused of lying to FBI agents by claiming he was surrounded by 15 men in the Velda City Police Department parking lot and was forced to draw his gun. He actually encountered four to five people and he never drew his gun, authorities said. Velda City’s police chief says the two 16-year-olds and one 26-year-old man he is accused of hitting were already in police custody when Stanback struck them with his baton.

August, 2014: Mike Brown, 18 years old, shot multiple times by Ferguson police. Eye witnesses claim initial shots were fired into Brown’s back.







Laugh Through It: Assembling Difference in an American Stand-Up Comedy Club

Check out my newest article, ‘Laugh Through it,’ available online first through the journal, Ethnography


Through an examination of a Midwestern professional comedy club, this article theorizes stand-up comedy as part of the broader affective-cultural assemblage that is nightlife entertainment. Using the Deleuzian notion of assemblage, this analysis builds on poststructural accounts of the dynamic and transient properties of culture, and the relationship between space, culture, and affect. As a specific affective-cultural assemblage, stand-up comedy operates as both constrainer and enabler of racial and heteronormative order through the bringing together of a variety of diverse logics and practices. I argue that stand-up comedy should no longer be thought of strictly in discursive or symbolic-interactionist terms that over-determine the roles of particular agents (i.e. comics). Instead, when described as emergent, transient, and fundamentally affective, stand-up comedy and other cultural forms can be seen for their openness and multiplicity, both contributing to racial and heteronormative order as well as upending it.

Affect and the Sociology of Race: A Program for Critical Inquiry

(now available online at Ethnicities)


Theorizing the centrality of race remains a key issue within the social sciences. However, an examination of four programs that dominate critical inquiry, particularly in the US context – Racial Formation Theory; Systemic Racism; Color-Blind Racism; and Critical Race Theory – reveal two key problems: a reductivist account of the role of culture in the production of race and racism and the essentializing of the political identity of racial Others. This article, then, considers a different paradigm for the study of race – an affective program. Two components of an affective program identified in this article are: (a) a more dynamic account of culture, opening up the realm of the discursive to more than just signification and representation, but also expression; and (b) locating the possibilities of racial politics as matters of racialized and anti-racist practices rather than matters of racial identity.

The “Disease” of Race

{From an unpublished manuscript, “The Pathology of Racism”}

The history of race as a pathological construct is well documented in the social sciences. Though many social scientists have argued that race is a modern concept with a foundation in European colonialism and global capitalism’s formation (Bonilla-Silva 2010; Feagin 2000; Omi and Winant 1994; Winant 2004), other scholars have empirically demonstrated that proto-types for race are found much earlier in human history (Kruger 1997; Thomas 2010). Further, these proto-types were fundamentally grounded in the belief that particular groups suffered from their difference in ways we now associate with disease or illness.

For instance, Jews living in European Christendom during the 13th century were depicted as the possessors of diseased bodies that only Christian blood could cure, giving rise to the popular belief at the time that Jews were quite fond of kidnapping Christian babies from their homes and drinking their blood (Kruger 1997; Thomas 2010). While many Jews were likely to suffer from a variety of illnesses due to their out-group status in European Christendom, these illnesses, and the fact that they were affecting Jews at alarming rates, lent support to the beliefs of the papal authorities that these illnesses were a result of being Jewish (Glick 1999).

The development of modern medicine led not only to a variety of treatments for conditions previously thought to be diseases of the spirit, but also new ways for distinguishing racial groups from one another. The rebirth of Mendelian genetics in the early 20th century within the United States partnered with the ongoing Eugenics movement in both Europe and the United States to lend scientific merit to the belief that there were fundamental differences between the races, and to social policies which attempted to control the reproduction rates among the more “inferior” races (Barkan 1992; Duster 2003; Seldon 2011).

The near-death of the eugenics movement in the United States can be attributed to two separate episodes: the first was the collapse of Nazi Germany in the aftermath of World War II and the subsequent campaign to illuminate their inhumane genetic experimentation on Jewish prisoners of war (Barkan 1992; Carlson 2001). The second episode was the successful research program within the social sciences, particularly in the Chicago School, to demonstrate through rigorous empirical and theoretical detail the social construction of race and ethnicity (Bulmer 1986; Frazier 1969; Park 1950; Wirth 1945).

However, both of these occurrences are relatively recent within the global history of race and racialization. Thus, historically speaking, racial differences have been largely understood as matters of biological and pathological differences. And, though the contemporary problem of race is one of social structure and ideology, the more lengthy history of race as a biological phenomenon is directly responsible for many contemporary practices of racism within the Western context, including sterilization laws and anti-miscegenation laws, the latter of which many remained on the books until as recently as 2001 (Duster 2003; Jones 2011; Reilly 1987; Schoen 2005; Wang 2012).

Both sterilization laws and anti-miscegenation laws are examples of racialized practices arising out of pathological explanations. The birth, growth, and partial demise of these practices are well documented by a number of scholars, as are the various social movements during the 1960s that produced structural and ideological shifts leading us away from biological underpinnings of the concept of race to more nuanced, and socially constructed ones (e.g. Bonilla-Silva 1997; Feagin 2000; Mills 1997; Omi and Winant 1994). We are currently witness to the reemergence of biological deterministic racial projects via the mapping of the human genome – for instance, capital punishment rates have decreased significantly since the turn of the century, when the human genome was mapped, and it is becoming increasingly clear how many innocents are still being “lynched” through the modern capital punishment regime within the prison system .

Currently, racialized practices are predominantly analyzed as (1) products of structural and systemic racial dominance that are (2) discursively, symbolically, and expressively mediated through (3) overt institutional policies and practices, as well as (4) more covert, everyday rhetorical strategies, narratives, and embodied actions, and (5) are intended to reproduce racial order over time (Bonilla-Silva 2012; Bonilla-Silva et al. 2004; Desmond and Emirbayer 2010; Frankenberg 1994; McKee 1993; Winant 2004). But while a discursive and expressive shift was underway that reconstituted race as a social issue, and not a biological one, racism as a product of racialization was undergoing a shift as well – from a social, political, and cultural consequence to a pathological byproduct.

This shift represents a dialectic encounter between biopower and biopolitics. This encounter produced the expanding scope of a scientific and medical form of governmentality that while allowing for a dismissal of biological explanations of race also began to produce pathological accounts of racism. As a result, racism has become reclassified over time as a clinical disorder, a pathological syndrome, and a disease that could be diagnosed through clinical means, and most recently treated through behavioral modification and drug therapy (Kelly et al. 2010; Poussaint 1999; Skillings and Dobbins 1991; Terbeck et al. 2012).

…The increasing pathologization of racism reflects an increasing presence of scientific and medical governmentality in the post-World War II era that produces an encounter between increasing demands on individuals and collectives to become less racist (biopower) with emergent explanations for all sorts of human conditions that are now being seen as under the authority of the psy-sciences and medical community (biopolitics). This encounter has, over time, produced a wave of research, treatment models, and theoretical frameworks from which to interpret racism as a clinical, mental, and pathological condition that can be treated most effectively through behavioral and drug-therapy.