Ritual And Performance In Southern Lynchings
In the antebellum South, the white man's ability to control those within their household and below them in the social hierarchy was perceived as reflecting their masculinity. However, without the support of legalized slavery during the post-Civil War era, white males had to find alternative ways to demonstrate their manhood. Ritualized lynchings allowed the white community to model, produce, and reinforce a distinct masculine identity while also sending a message to the black community and white women and children to obey the boundaries set up by white males. Thus, it became important that white women, children, and adolescents attend lynchings so they could learn their respective racial and gender roles. The responsibility of upholding white supremacy fell heavily on boys and adolescent males, who figure prominently in the aftermath of lynchings by gathering souvenirs, such as the victim's teeth, nails, and penis. They also were expected to report and, at times, carry out the punishment themselves on African Americans who they perceived to have behaved inappropriately, although the adults had to make sure that the boys distinguished between justified violence, which was considered necessary to uphold white patriarchy, and uncontrolled aggression for dishonorable reasons.
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