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Sex and Race

Mamie Till Mobley describes looking at her son's body and feeling relief that the killers hadn't mutilated his genitals. Why was she afraid they might?

Jane Dailey:
Mamie Mobley was afraid that her son's killers had mutilated his genitals because it was very common for lynchers to do exactly that. At the height of the Southern lynching craze (which peaked in 1892), naked black men were castrated by white men in full view of white women and children. In Atlanta in April 1899, for instance, Sam Hose was burned before a crowd of thousands for killing his employer and allegedly raping the white man's wife. Before setting him alight, his executioners cut off his fingers, ears, and genitals, and skinned his face.

John David Smith:
In their racist rage white mobs often mutilated the bodies of their male victims. This kind of gross ritualization of hate and control falls again into the realm of dehumanizing one's victims and thereby gaining a sense of moral vindication. In other words, those who enforce community standards believe that they are "civilized," while those beyond community standards (those who we interpret as "victims") could be brutalized because they were not "civilized." The fixation of white mobs on the sexual organs of black alleged rapists no doubt signified to some degree their own sexual fantasies and resulted in part from their ritualized need to project sexual control on the victims of their racist rage.

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