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Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti-Lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical Historyby Rebecca N. Hill
Synopses & Reviews
In Men, Mobs, and Law, Rebecca N. Hill compares two seemingly unrelated types of leftist protest campaigns: those intended to defend labor organizers from prosecution and those seeking to memorialize lynching victims and stop the practice of lynching. Arguing that these forms of protest are related and have substantially influenced one another, Hill points out that both worked to build alliances through appeals to public opinion in the media, by defining the American state as a force of terror, and by creating a heroic identity for their movements. Each has played a major role in the history of radical politics in the United States. Hill illuminates that history by considering the narratives produced during the abolitionist John Brown’s trials and execution, analyzing the defense of the Chicago anarchists of the Haymarket affair, and comparing Ida B. Wells’s and the NAACP’s anti-lynching campaigns to the Industrial Workers of the World’s early-twentieth-century defense campaigns. She also considers conflicts within the campaign to defend Sacco and Vanzetti, chronicles the history of the Communist Party’s International Labor Defense, and explores the Black Panther Party’s defense of George Jackson.
As Hill explains, labor defense activists first drew on populist logic, opposing the masses to the state in their campaigns, while anti-lynching activists went in the opposite direction, castigating “the mob” and appealing to the law. Showing that this difference stems from the different positions of whites and Blacks in the American legal system, Hill’s comparison of anti-lynching organizing and radical labor defenses reveals the conflicts and intersections between antiracist struggle and socialism in the United States.
This very ambitious study reads the American Left by way of its defense campaigns for a range of left-wing heroes including the abolitionists, communists, anarchists and the Panthers.
About the Author
“‘Do you not understand your own language?’ David Walker famously asked white America. It is an enduring question for activists and scholars of the antiracist left, and one that Rebecca N. Hill engages in this imaginative and provocative study. Men, Mobs, and Law critically compares and connects a series of cases framed by state-sanctioned premature death to disentangle the rhetoric, strategy, and gendered racial politics of radical campaigns for justice that overlay deeper movements for social change.”—Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California
“Men, Mobs, and Law is a brilliant work of scholarship. Rebecca N. Hill argues that anti-lynching and labor-defense movements represent two sides of the same coin, not simply because they share a concern for social justice, but because they embody a fundamental opposition between the mob and the state. Hill draws on the most sophisticated analyses of race, gender, class, history, politics, and literature to reorient our thinking about the meaning of ‘popular justice.’”—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
“Men, Mobs, and Law is a terrific book, which will speak to wide readerships about the functioning of the state, the nature and complexity of movements that have challenged the state, and the problems that race and class pose for traditional conceptions of American democracy. The book is organized around dramatic cases. These are stories that many of us know well, but Rebecca N. Hill’s treatment of them is fresh, lively, richly detailed, and impassioned.”—Peter Rachleff, author of Hard-Pressed in the Heartland: The Hormel Strike and the Future of the Labor Movement
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