USING THE MOVIE
In the Southern United States, before the 1960s, blacks were segregated from whites. Not only did blacks live in different areas than whites, but by law they were not permitted to go to the same schools, sit in the same part of the courthouse, eat in the same restaurants, use the same public rest rooms or drink at the same water fountains. These laws were unconstitutional and have now been changed.
The Constitution of the United States requires that before a person is convicted of a crime he must be given “due process of law.” In the case of persons accused of a felony or a crime for which they can be imprisoned for a substantial period of time, this includes the right to a lawyer. If the defendant is poor and cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the state must provide a lawyer for him. The judge appointed Atticus as defense counsel for the man accused of rape to comply with this provision of the Constitution. For a film which teaches the meaning of “due process of law,” see The Ox-Bow Incident.
Lynching is an execution, usually by hanging, in punishment for a crime or offense for which the person lynched has not been convicted in a court of law. Often, people who are lynched have committed no crime at all, as in The Ox-Bow Incident. See also The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman in which a black man was lynched for trying to educate his people.
Lynching was named after a Virginia Justice of the Peace, Charles Lynch, who ordered the extra-legal hanging of Tory sympathizers during the American Revolution. Vigilante mobs, most often in the West, resorted to lynching when police or judges had been corrupted or were ineffectual. See Barbary Coast. Before the Civil War, white opponents of slavery were subjected to lynchings in the South. After the Civil War, lynching by white mobs became a favorite method of intimidating blacks. Beginning in 1886 more blacks than whites were lynched. Since 1882, when records began to be kept, more than 4700 people have been lynched in the United States. The largest number in any single year was 230 in 1892. Civil rights workers in the South in the 1950’s and 1960’s were sometimes lynched. Lynching has now been effectively suppressed by law enforcement officials and public disapproval.