Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky
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Lynching

Lynching and mob rule were used to ensure that blacks knew their “place” in society. Between 1866 and 1940, at least 258 blacks were lynched in Kentucky. (The exact number is not known because some cases were never reported.) Only eight other states had higher numbers of lynching victims during this period.

“Legal lynching” was condoned under the public hanging law in effect at the time. Blacks accused of crimes were tried under hostile circumstances, with no real chance to prove guilt or innocence, and swiftly given a death sentence. In other cases, the victims of lynching were not even accused of a specific crime—except, perhaps, that of violating some unwritten social convention.

While the Ku Klux Klan did not become a strong force within Kentucky, Klan groups were present along with local vigilante groups, who opposed the advancement of blacks. “White-sheet” intimidation and cross burnings were not uncommon, especially in rural areas. The Louisville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1914, actively protested against mob violence and lynching from its start.

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