LYNCHING Although the origin of the term lynching is uncertain, it is generally thought that it derives from the name of Capt. William Lynch [hence Lynch's law or lynch law]. Lynch (1742-1820) headed a vigilance committee in Pittsylvania, Virginia during the American Revolution. This "committee," in turn, took it upon itself to execute thieves, outlaws and traitors by hanging. Hence, as it is commonly understood (though individual state definitions of the practice vary), lynching refers to group participation (mob action) in the killing (usually by hanging) of an individual or individuals under the pretext of serving justice, regardless of whether the individual or individuals have been tried in a court of law and regardless of whether a crime (real or alleged) has been committed by the individual or individuals.
Although it is true that in the United States a number of whites have been lynched, especially in the "Old West," and that black lynching parties against whites have occurred, the African American historically has been lynch law's most frequent victim, especially in the South following the Civil War. According to statistics compiled by the Tuskegee Institute, a total of 3,442 blacks (compared to 1,294 whites) were lynched in the United States between 1882-1962. Of those, close to half (1,716) were lynched in the four southern states of Georgia (491), Louisiana (335), Mississippi (538) and Texas (352). Moreover, it is interesting to observe that the "causes" of lynching (as classified by Tuskegee) included rape and attempted rape (1,119), and "insults to white persons" (85).