Lynching is a premeditated extrajudicial killing by a group. It is most often used to characterize informal public executions by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate a group. It is an extreme form of informal group social control such as charivari, riding the rail, and tarring and feathering, and often conducted with the display of a public spectacle for maximum intimidation. It is to be considered an act of terrorism and punishable by law.[1][2] Instances of lynchings and similar mob violence can be found in every society.[3][4][5]

In the United States, lynchings of African Americans, typically by hanging, became frequent in the South during the period after the Reconstruction era and especially during the decades on either side of the turn of the 20th century. At the time, Southern states were passing new constitutions and laws to disenfranchise African Americans and impose legal segregation and Jim Crow rule. Most lynchings were conducted by white mobs against black victims, often suspects taken from jail before they were tried by all-white juries, or even before arrest.[citation needed] The political message—the promotion of white supremacy and black powerlessness—was an important element of the ritual. Lynchings were photographed and published as postcards, which were popular souvenirs in the U.S., to expand the intimidation of the acts.[6][7] Victims were sometimes shot, burned alive, or otherwise tortured and mutilated in the public events.[8] In some cases the mutilated body parts were taken as mementos by the spectators.[9] Particularly in the West, other minorities—Native Americans, Mexicans and Asians—were also lynched. The South had the states with the highest total numbers of lynchings.


The origins of the word "lynch" are obscure, but it likely originated during the American revolution. The verb comes from the phrase "Lynch Law", a term for a punishment without trial. Two Americans during this era are generally credited for coining the phrase: Charles Lynch and William Lynch, who both lived in Virginia in the 1780s. Charles Lynch has the better claim, as he was known to have used the term in 1782, while William Lynch is not known to have used the term until much later. There is no evidence that death was imposed as a punishment by either of the two men.[10] In 1782, Charles Lynch wrote that his assistant had administered "Lynch's law" to Tories "for Dealing with Negroes, &c."[11]

The origin of the terms lynching and lynch law is traditionally attributed In the United States to Charles Lynch, a Virginia Quaker.[12]:23ff Charles Lynch (1736–1796) was a Virginia planter and American Revolutionary who headed a county court in Virginia which incarcerated Loyalist supporters of the British for up to one year during the war. While he lacked proper jurisdiction, he claimed this right by arguing wartime necessity. Subsequently, he prevailed upon his friends in the Congress of the Confederation to pass a law that exonerated him and his associates from wrongdoing. He was concerned that he might face legal action from one or more of those so incarcerated, even though the American Colonies had won the war. This action by the Congress provoked controversy, and it was in connection with this that the term "Lynch law", meaning the assumption of extrajudicial authority, came into common parlance in the United States. Lynch was not accused of racist bias. He acquitted blacks accused of murder on three separate occasions.[13][14] He was accused, however, of ethnic prejudice in his abuse of Welsh miners.[11]

William Lynch (1742–1820) from Virginia claimed that the phrase was first used in a 1780 compact signed by him and his neighbors in Pittsylvania County. While Edgar Allan Poe claimed that he found this document, it was probably a hoax.[citation needed]

A 17th-century legend of James Lynch fitz Stephen, who was Mayor of Galway in Ireland in 1493, says that when his son was convicted of murder, the mayor hanged him from his own house.[15] The story was proposed by 1904 as the origin of the word "lynch".[16] It is dismissed by etymologists, both because of the distance in time and place from the alleged event to the word's later emergence, and because the incident did not constitute a lynching in the modern sense.[16][10]

The archaic verb linch, to beat severely with a pliable instrument, to chastise or to maltreat, has been proposed as the etymological source; but there is no evidence that the word has survived into modern times, so this claim is also considered implausible.[12]:16

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Lynch
беларуская: Суд Лінча
भोजपुरी: मॉब लिंचिंग
български: Линчуване
brezhoneg: Linchañ
català: Linxament
čeština: Lynčování
Cymraeg: Lynsio
dansk: Lynchning
Deutsch: Lynchjustiz
Ελληνικά: Λυντσάρισμα
español: Linchamiento
Esperanto: Linĉado
فارسی: لینچ کردن
français: Lynchage
Gaeilge: Linseáil
galego: Linchamento
한국어: 린치
हिन्दी: भीड़ हत्या
hrvatski: Linč
Bahasa Indonesia: Penghakiman massa
italiano: Linciaggio
עברית: לינץ'
Lëtzebuergesch: Lynchjustiz
lietuvių: Linčo teismas
magyar: Lincselés
مصرى: لنشيه
Nederlands: Lynchen
日本語: 私刑
norsk: Lynsjing
norsk nynorsk: Lynsjing
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Linch sudi
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਹਜੂਮੀ ਕਤਲ
پنجابی: بلوا
polski: Samosąd
português: Linchamento
română: Linșaj
русский: Суд Линча
Simple English: Lynching
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Linč
suomi: Lynkkaus
svenska: Lynchning
Türkçe: Linç
українська: Лінчування
اردو: بلوا
Tiếng Việt: Tư hình
中文: 私刑