Thursday, December 22, 2016

#BlackDeathsMatter: No FBI Repository of Lynching Files

Chalk it up to my naivete; thinking there was a federal archive containing records about America's shameful lynching of black Americans.

The FBI responded via snail mail to my recent FOIA request for any lynching files from 1900 through, saying I needed to provide specific names, locations and other vital info before they could commence a search. A copy of their letter is shared below.

Using names, dates and locations gleaned from the America's Black Holocaust Museum's archive of known and documented lynchings, a new FOIA request was submitted. As expected, the FBI can't begin the search unless acceptable proof of death for said person is provided.

Through emails with the black holocaust museum's director of their web site, Fran Kaplan, she shared facts about their list of victims names:

"I am so sorry that I don’t know how to help you on your quest to get FBI files, because I simply do not know if such files existed. If so, I haven’t heard of that.

"In fact, I’d doubt that the FBI ever kept track of lynchings, since these killings were essentially state-sanctioned, excused if not actually abetted by local and state law enforcement. The Federal government did nothing to prevent such illegal executions; no law criminalizing lynching was ever enacted.

"Tuskeegee University (then Institute) maintained records of lynchings (mostly in the South) that they became aware of.

"Our Memorial has names that appear in Ralph Ginzberg’s '100 Years of Lynching' book; he retrieved them from contemporary newspaper accounts. Those reported in newspapers were only a fraction of those lynching actually committed. Now the Equal Justice Commission in Alabama is compiling further records of lynchings; they’ve found evidence of many unreported ones."

My next move will be to submit "100 Years of Lynching" to the FBI and request they search their archive for materials related to every victim named in the book.

Longer term, I'm considering lobbying the FBI to create a lynching crimes unit to extensively scour their records for all and any pertinent files. The agency needs to clean house about what it didn't and may have done over the past century-plus of white people lynching black persons.

Just as #BlackLivesMatters, let's also remember that #BlackDeathsMatter too.

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