Lynching Linked With Institutionalized Death Penalty in New Book by Evergreen Faculty Member

July 22, 2004

"Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947" is a book of firsts, a first book for historian Michael Pfeifer and, according to the author, the first national analysis of lynching and criminal justice. Pfeifer, a professor at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, argues that lynching was not eradicated, but instead institutionalized. As states banned lynching, they replaced it with a revitalized death penalty. In Washington state, hanging is still an option.

Pfeifer uncovered a lost and dark history in a century-old heap of coroner's inquests, court reports, personal correspondence and news articles. In his travels and research, Pfeifer found evidence of lynchings unaccounted for since the 19th century, and in regions not typically associated with racial violence.

"It was an amazing sensation to unwind the folder clasp on a coroner's inquest that hadn't been looked at since it was filed. I posted Web pages of all the lynchings that I documented in the seven states--Washington, California, Iowa, Wyoming, Louisiana, Wisconsin and New York--that I studied. Descendants, including grandchildren, of victims and perpetrators began emailing me. Through their correspondence, I learned details about the mob killings that never were published before," Pfeifer said.

In April, the Washington State Historical Society presented Pfeifer the Charles Gates Award for his article "Midnight Justice: Lynching and Law in the Pacific Northwest." The award recognizes the best contribution to Pacific Northwest Quarterly in the previous year.

"Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947" was published last month by the University of Illinois Press and is available through and other online bookstores.

Contact: Jim Beaver, (360) 867-6042
Michael Pfeifer, (360) 867-6009