Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"The Usual Crime"

"The Decay of Lynching
(Grand Junction Sentinel)
Lynchings fell off in 1914. There were only fifty-two cases in the United States, the smallest number in any year since the records have been kept. Aside from this general indication of a growing respect for law and order, a scrutiny of the record develops some less gratifying facts. First of all, it should be noted that if “the usual crime” were ever regarded as a blanket justification for the institution of lynching, it must now be definitely discarded. Relentless statistics declare that only seven lynchings out of the fifty-two came within the category of chivalric murders for the protection of womanhood and only five of the victims in these cases were colored."

-Steamboat Pilot, January 27, 1915, page 4

A friend told me that sometimes when I write, I speak a different language. We traced the source to the constant research I do reading old newspapers. The quaint, archaic English practiced by turn-of-the-century papers is a far cry from the tight, concise writing journalism emphasizes today. Additionally, social mores required the use of strangely-turned phrases that wouldn't offend Victorian readers' sensibilities. For example, "the usual crime." This one is elusive. I have to imagine, by the context, that they refer to rape. Even better: "chivalric murders for the protection of womanhood?" Compared to the USA Today, these men were Shakespeare!

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