Although lynch mobs primarily targeted Black people, the first effort to pass a federal anti-lynching law had nothing to do with African Americans. Instead, it followed the 1891 lynchings of 11 Italians in New Orleans.
On Nov. 4, 1883, a white mob, fearful of Black political power and riled up by false newspaper narratives, took to the streets of Danville three days before the election and used a fist fight between a white man and a Black man as justification for a violent massacre.
Hundreds of white-owned newspapers across the country incited the racist terror lynchings and massacres of thousands of Black Americans. In their headlines, these newspapers often promoted the brutality of white lynch mobs and chronicled the gruesome details of the lynchings.
Local newspaper editors in Virginia say they hadn’t been aware of their publications’ roles in the 1883 Danville massacre. “It’s just appalling,” Steven Doyle, editor of the Danville Register & Bee, said of historical headlines that were published about the 1883 Danville massacre — in which a white mob murdered six Black men and suppressed the African American vote before the statewide election.
Local historians Dean Hairston and Karice Luck-Brimmer, who are both African American, had trouble discovering their family history in Danville, Virginia. African American history can be difficult to uncover. Traditional histories were written by white citizens. White-owned newspapers have been carefully preserved, whereas few Black newspaper archives exist before the 20th century. Black genealogical records have been destroyed.