|'Southern justice would be none too Speedy for such brutes': Race, Respectability and Regional Understandings of Law and Violence in Early-Twentieth Century New York and Pennsylvania|
|Historians of race, crime, and punishment in the nineteenth and early twentieth century United States have commonly adopted a comparative approach that highlights the distinctive features of “southern justice.” Racial violence was a feature of American society throughout the nation, but it has been argued that while this violence was pervasive in the South where it was conducted through both legal and extra-legal channels, in the northern states it was largely carried out under the auspices of the state, for example through the death penalty.
This paper reconsiders the notion of “southern justice” as an idea in early-twentieth century America, particularly from the perspective of northern black communities. It argues that rather than distinct practices stemming from different cultures, state-sponsored and extra-legal violence are more accurately viewed as mutually-informed and “entangled” parts of a national history of racialized violence and law enforcement. Viewing this history primarily from the perspective of northern black communities, the paper shows that the horrors of southern violence were central to framing the way that African Americans engaged with, understood, and experienced racialized violence and law enforcement in northern communities. At the same time, the violent and discriminatory reality of northern black life also shaped African American views on law and violence. A concern with racial uplift and middle class notions of respectability led many northern African Americans to accept pro-lynching depictions of black criminality and to advocate quick and severe punishment of black convicts in the North despite awareness of the discriminatory treatment of black defendants by the police and judiciary. Such an approach had political advantages at a time of great concern over lawlessness in northern society, particularly in the labor movement, but it could also compromise anti-lynching campaigns.