DUKE: Lynching in the West: 1850–1935


Ken Gonzales-Day

Lynching in the West: 1850–1935, A John Hope Franklin Center Book, Duke University Press, Durham, 2006 (available at Duke)

Scholarly studies on lynching in the United States have primarily focused on the history of African Americans. Ken Gonzales-Day publication garnered national attention for revealing that the lynching of Latinos, Native Americans, and Chinese, was more widespread  in the American West that was previously recognized. His research uncovered over 350 instances of lynching that occurred in the state of California for the period between 1850 and 1935.  The research also  revealed that Latinos of Mexican origin or descent made up the largest majority of the state’s victims.

An artist and writer, Gonzales-Day began this study by photographing lynching sites in order to document the absences and empty spaces that are emblematic of the forgotten history of lynching in the West. Drawing on newspaper articles, periodicals, court records, historical photographs, and souvenir postcards, he reconstruct the circumstances surrounding the lynchings that had occurred in the spaces he was photographing. The result is an unprecedented textual and visual record of a largely unacknowledged manifestation of racial violence in the United States. Including sixteen color illustrations, Lynching in the West juxtaposes Gonzales-Day’s evocative contemporary photographs of lynching sites with dozens of historical images. Images from the Erased Lynching series serve as visual interventions within the text as well.

Gonzales-Day examines California’s history of lynching in relation to the spectrum of extra-legal vigilantism common during the nineteenth century—from vigilante committees to lynch mobs—and in relation to race-based theories of criminality. He explores the role of visual culture as well, reflecting on lynching as spectacle and the development of lynching photography. Seeking to explain why the history of lynching in the West has been obscured until now, Gonzales-Day points to popular misconceptions of frontier justice as race-neutral and to the role of the anti-lynching movement in shaping the historical record of lynching in the United States. Now in its second printing!


To read the Introduction of Lynching In The West