By Campbell Robertson, the New York Times

The sites of nearly every lynching in the United States are not marked. Bryan Stevenson believes this should change.

A white crowd gathered around a 1925 lynching in Excelsior Springs, MO

A white crowd gathered around a 1925 lynching in Excelsior Springs, MO

On Tuesday, the organization he founded and runs, the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., released a report on the history of lynchings in the United States, the result of five years of research and 160 visits to sites around the South. The authors of the report compiled an inventory of 3,959 victims of “racial terror lynchings” in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950.

Next comes the process of selecting lynching sites where the organization plans to erect markers and memorials, which will involve significant fund-raising, negotiations with distrustful landowners and, almost undoubtedly, intense controversy.

The process is intended, Stevenson said, to force people to reckon with the narrative through-line of the country’s vicious racial history, rather than thinking of that history in a short-range, piecemeal way.

“Lynching and the terror era shaped the geography, politics, economics and social characteristics of being black in America during the 20th century,” Stevenson said, arguing that many participants in the great migration from the South should be thought of as refugees fleeing terrorism rather than people simply seeking work.

“Many of these lynchings were not executing people for crimes but executing people for violating the racial hierarchy,” noted Professor E.M. Beck of the University of Georgia, meaning offenses such as bumping up against a white woman or wearing an Army uniform.

Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson at the site of a 1910 lynching in Dallas.

Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson at the site of a 1910 lynching in Dallas.

The report released Tuesday has 700 names that are not on any previous lists, many of which Mr. Stevenson said were discovered during the compilation of the report.

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