Vincent Vinikas' Review of Dominic


Similar to Vinikas, the article begins with a description of an actual lynching that took place, although McDermott's description is far more comprehensive than that of Vinikas. McDermott's article concerns a lynching case in Cairo, Illinois in 1908, in which William "Froggie" James was arrested and lynched for the raping of a white girl even while he may have been innocent. Subsequently, McDermott's article touches on a number of different areas related to lynching, including the cultural climate of Illinois around the turn of the century, the burgeoning newspaper press and the role it played in the changing public perception of lynchings, and the ways in which the vestiges of the Civil War can be seen even in geographic locales that are purportedly northern, and therefore "anti-lynching."

McDermott argues that even though the lynching of William James occurred nearly 50 years following the conclusion of the Civil War, the cultural atmosphere of the United States was decidedly prejudiced against African-Americans, and that this very same discrimination prevented the African-American press from more swiftly elevating the issue of rape in the public consciousness. She writes, "For Cairo, Illinois, may have been a town geographically northern, yet on one night it was a town mentally and spiritually as southern as Mississippi or Alabama" (McDermott, 1999, p.61). Stating that Cairo, Illinois became southern "on one night" is misleading since the rest of the article delineates specific ways in which Illinois was very much a racist locale even after the advent of the 20th century. Specifically, McDermott mentions that Cairo was a rough river town, with vast amounts of illicit activity and that there had been racial complications since the Civil War and the Underground Railroad that served to transport slaves from the southern states to the northern ones. McDermott buries her most salient point -- made on page 67 -- that "ironically, few in thi age of progressivism undertood the underlying racial causes of lynching nor came to grips with the impact of American society's racist foundations and the institutional injustices inflicted upon an entire race" (McDermott, 1999, p.67). Thus, despite the fact that northern states such as Illinois played lip service to racial equality, there existed cultural forces that relegated African-Americans to subservient status.

Unlike Vinikas, McDermott provides a cultural explanation for why lynching took place. This elevates her article to the point that it addresses not only a specific lynching but the cultural climate that enabled lynching to take place in the first place. To this end, Vinikas' approach, which focuses exclusively on one case, appears short-sighted and fails to recognize the way in which American society allowed for lynching, to the point that it "unfolded like a sporting event" (McDermott, 1999, 68). Lynching was difficult to abolish because the African-American press that publicized it was shunned; the author uses Ida Wells and Frederick Douglass as examples.

Ultimately, McDermott's article is preferable to that of Vinikas because it focuses on the larger cultural systems that enabled lynching in America. While both articles take a critical stance toward lynching, the broader scope taken by McDermott allows for a more nuanced elucidation of lynching, how it was inextricably linked with American culture even years after the Civil War, and why exactly the practice was accepted for such an extended period of time.


McDermott, S.P. (1999). An outrageous proceeding: A northern lynching and the enforcement of anti-lynching legislation in Illinois, 1905-1910. The Journal of Negro History, 84(1), 61-78.

Vinikas, V. (1999). Theā€¦