Taming the black male?
During Reconstruction, blacks who stepped outside the social order risked their lives.
To enforce the racial hierarchy and police the boundaries of what blacks could say and do, whites often resorted to lynching. Although no one is exactly sure, it’s estimated that over 3,400 blacks were lynched or publicly murdered from 1882 to 1968. One of most famous examples was Emmett Till, who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman.
Economist Dwight Murphey has written that lynching was different from other forms of violence. Unlike, say, a domestic dispute or an act of revenge, it functioned to maintain the social order. It was, Murphey wrote, “motivated by a desire to vindicate the moral sense of community, and has as its target a specific person or persons.” In other words, it was used to enforce a racial hierarchy, foster a sense of community among whites, and ensure that black men knew their place.
Although the methods of lynching varied, it was common practice for white mobs, seeking to reaffirm the racial order, to hang or castrate the victim. (A number of psychoanalytic theories have sought to account for the phenomenon of castrations, but many scholars agree that castration served as the ultimate act of “taming” the black male, assuaging the fears and anxieties about uncontrolled black masculinity.)