Reconstruction in America: Racial Violence after the Civil War, and True Justice now

Read the report by the Equal Justice Initiative, Oct 2020

EJI Releases New Report Documenting 2,000 More Lynchings of Black People by White Mobs

Reconstruction in America shows how the promises of Emancipation were betrayed by racial violence and terrorism.

EJI’s new report, Reconstruction in America, documents nearly 2,000 more confirmed racial terror lynchings of Black people by white mobs in America than previously detailed.

The report examines the 12 years following the Civil War when lawlessness and violence perpetrated by white leaders created an American future of racial hierarchy, white supremacy, and Jim Crow laws—an era from which our nation has yet to recover.Download PDFPurchase a copy

EJI has now documented nearly 6,500 racial terror lynchings in America between 1865 and 1950. Thousands more Black people have been killed by white mob lynchings whose deaths may never be discovered. Read the ReportReconstruction in AmericaEJI’s new report documents nearly 2,000 lynchings of Black people by white mobs between 1865 and 1877.

In our 2015 report, Lynching in America, EJI documented 4,500 racial terror lynchings in the period between 1877 and 1950. Our newest report, Reconstruction in America, documents nearly 2,000 additional lynchings between 1865 and 1876, raising the total number of documented lynchings to nearly 6,500.

Thousands more were attacked, sexually assaulted, and terrorized by white mobs and individuals who were shielded from arrest and prosecution.

This data visualization shows the spread of racial violence—including racial terror lynchings and mass lynchings—through the South during Reconstruction.

White perpetrators of lawless violence against formerly enslaved people were almost never held accountable—instead, they were often celebrated. Emboldened Confederate veterans and former enslavers organized a reign of terror that effectively nullified constitutional amendments designed to provide Black people with equal protection and the right to vote.

In a series of devastating opinions, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Congressional efforts to protect formerly enslaved people. The Court ceded control to the same white Southerners who used terror and violence to stop Black political participation, upholding laws and practices that codified racial hierarchy and embracing a new constitutional order defined by “states’ rights.”Related ResourceVisual Reading GuideA guide for teachers and students reading Reconstruction in America.

Within a decade after the Civil War, Congress began to abandon the promise of assistance to millions of formerly enslaved Black people. Violence, mass lynchings, and lawlessness enabled white Southerners to create a regime of white supremacy and Black disenfranchisement alongside a new economic order that continued to exploit Black labor.

White officials in the North and West similarly rejected racial equality, codified racial discrimination, and occasionally embraced the same tactics of violent control seen in the South. We cannot understand our present moment without recognizing the lasting damage caused by allowing white supremacy and racial hierarchy to prevail during Reconstruction.

Bryan Stevenson, Director

How to cite

Equal Justice Initiative, “Reconstruction in America: Racial Violence after the Civil War” (2020).

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The HBO documentary film True Justice has been honored with an Emmy Award. The film, which premiered in 2019, won the Emmy for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary at last night’s News and Documentary Emmy Awards ceremony.

True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality follows 30 years of EJI’s work on behalf of the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

It traces our nation’s history of racial injustice from slavery, lynching, and segregation to mass incarceration, and documents the monumental opening of our Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in 2018.

It also features the unforgettable story of our client and colleague, Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row for a crime he did not commit.

Watch the trailer

Educators at all levels have been using True Justice screenings in lessons about racial history and the legacy of racial injustice in America. The film is available to watch online, and we created resources for teachers, including an Engagement Guide, to help advance a deeper understanding of our history.

Told primarily in Bryan Stevenson’s own words, True Justice is about what we need to do as a nation to bring about a new era of truth and justice.

Watch the Emmy-winning documentary, True Justice.