The purpose of this study is threefold. First, I wanted to tell the story of a long forgotten part of Ohio’s history–the lynching of black men by white mobs. Second, I wanted to ascertain if the theory developed by historian Roberta Senechal de la Roche was correct: that the components of a lynching could be broken down and labeled, and that by doing so, it could be predicted whether a lynching was going to occur. The latter part of the aforementioned statement is important, for lynching is a premeditated crime. If the components of a particular lynching are known, perhaps that lynching can be averted. Third, I wanted to verify if the passage of the anti-lynching law of 1896–the so-called “Smith law,” named after Harry C. Smith, a black newspaper owner and Republican state legislator from Cleveland, Ohio–was the reason that lynchings of black men tapered off and ceased altogether after 1916. Finally, I wanted to see if there was a definitive reason for which black men were lynched, be it sexual, economic, or racial.
Accordingly, I examined twelve lynchings and thirteen incidents in which lynchings were averted. I also looked at a legal execution–the victim had nearly been lynched before his execution by the state could be carried out–and an incident in which a lynching was reported but found to be the hanging of an iron statue made in the likeness of a black man.
de la Roche’s theory turned out to be correct. In each of the twenty-three incidents, at least two of her four variables were present. Second, it was impossible to ascertain with any certainty if the Smith law was responsible for the decline and eventual demise of the lynchings of black men in Ohio. In fact, three men were lynched after the Smith law was passed. Third, there is no definitive reason for why black men were lynched in Ohio, although accusations of sexual assault played a powerful role. Four of the men who were lynched had been accused of or charged with murder, five had been charged with sexual assault, one had been charged with assault, one had been charged with a murder and an assault, and one with robbery. Of the ten men who escaped being lynched, five had been accused of sexual assault, three had been accused of assault, and the last man was a white county sheriff who was nearly lynched for protecting a black man accused of sexual assault.
There was a common thread running through all but one of the incidents: The men who were lynched or escaped being lynched were all black, and except in one case, the mobs were white. Clearly mob in Ohio contained a strong racial element, although it could not be verified with any great certainty if it was the sole motive in any of the incidents.