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Doing Violence, Making Race: Southern Lynching and White Racial Group Formation1

This article presents a theoretical framework of how intergroup violence may figure into the activation and maintenance of group categories, boundaries, and identities, as well as the mediating role played by organizations in such processes. The framework’s analytical advantages are demonstrated in an application to southern lynchings. Findings from event- and community-level analyses suggest that “public” lynchings, carried out by larger mobs with ceremonial violence, but not “private” ones, perpetrated by smaller bands without public or ceremonial violence, fed off and into the racial group boundaries, categories, and identities promoted by the southern Democratic Party at the turn of the 20th century and on which the emerging Jim Crow system rested. Highlighting that racialized inequalities cannot be properly understood apart from collective processes of racial group boundary and identity making, the article offers clues to the mechanisms by which past racial domination influences contemporary race relations.