Whitecapping

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Whitecapping is a violent lawless movement among farmers that occurred specifically in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was originally a ritualized form of enforcing community standards, appropriate behavior and traditional rights.[1] However, as it spread throughout the poorest areas of the rural South it took on a distinct anti-black characteristic.

History[edit]

The Whitecapping movement started in Indiana around 1873, as white males began forming secret societies in order to attempt to deliver justice independent from the state. These groups were known as the 'White Caps'. The first White Cap encounters were generally aimed at those who went against a community’s values. Men who neglected or abused their family, people who showed excessive laziness and women who had children out of wedlock are all prime examples of possible targets.[2] As whitecapping spread into the Southern states during the 1890s, the targets became drastically different. In the South, White Cap societies were generally made up of poor white farmers, frequently sharecroppers and small landowners, who intended to control black laborers and prevent merchants from acquiring more land.[3] These societies in the South made it their task to attempt to force a person to abandon his home or property. This racial character of whitecapping in the South is thought to have been ignited by the agricultural depression that occurred around the same time. With all of the attention centered on producing cotton, the South’s economy became very unbalanced. Many farmers went into debt and lost their lands to merchants through mortgage foreclosures.[4] The merchants and their black laborers and sometimes new white tenants became quick targets for the dispossessed, who seemed to be losing everything. Racism contributed to the problem as well, prosperous black men in the South frequently faced resentment that could be expressed violently.[5]

Methodology[edit]

Despite the different whitecapping targets, the methods used by the White Caps remained somewhat constant. Generally, the members of this society were disguised in a way that somewhat resembled that of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and always attacked at night. Physical attacks could include such things as whipping, drowning, firing shots into houses, arson and other brutalities.[6] The White Caps also used non-violent means of intimidation in order to get certain residents to abandon their homes. These include posting signs on doors of blacks' and merchants' homes, as well as cornering a target and verbally threatening them. The victims of these attacks had little support from the legal authorities until 1893, when the threat of whitecapping began to be taken more seriously. However, even when the courts got involved it took time to completely clear the jury of any White Cap members or sympathizers. Many White Cap societies had become dormant by 1894 and members were punished with fines. However, there were still active members of the White Caps who were found and punished in the early 1900s.[7]

Over many years, whitecapping not only affected individual people, but also the communities and counties as a whole. In the South, whitecapping discouraged many merchants and industrialists from doing business in the counties; it also threatened to drive away all of the black laborers.[8] In the late twentieth century, whitecapping continued to be an issue in the South, as evidenced by a 1972 Mississippi statute criminalizing its practice. The statute reads as follows: "Any person or persons who shall, by placards, or other writing, or verbally, attempt by threats, direct or implied, of injury to the person or property of another, to intimidate such other person into an abandonment or change of home or employment, shall, upon conviction, be fined not exceeding five hundred dollars, or imprisoned in the county jail not exceeding six months, or in the penitentiary not exceeding five years, as the court, in its discretion may determine." [9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ McCormick, Chris and Green, Len, eds. "Crime and Deviance in Canada: Historical Perspectives." 1st ed. Toronto:Canadian Scholars' Press Inc, 2005. pp 54
  2. ^ McCormick, Chris and Green, Len, eds. "Crime and Deviance in Canada: Historical Perspectives." 1st ed. Toronto:Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc, 2005. pp 56
  3. ^ Holmes, William. "Whitecapping: Anti-Semitism in the Populist Era." American Jewish Historical Quarterly. 63 (1974): 247.
  4. ^ Holmes, William. "Whitecapping: Anti-Semitism in the Populist Era." American Jewish Historical Quarterly. 63 (1974): 246.
  5. ^ Painter, Nell. "The Flames of Racial Hatred." The Washington Post. 4 Feb 1996, national ed.: X03.
  6. ^ Holmes, William. "Whitecapping: Agrarian Violence in Mississippi, 1902–1906." The Journal of Southern History. 35 (1969):169
  7. ^ Anon. "For Whitecapping Negress." The New York Times. 10 Nov 1903, national ed.:1.
  8. ^ Holmes, William. "Whitecapping: Agrarian Violence in Mississippi, 1902–1906." The Journal of Southern History. 35 (1969):177
  9. ^ SEC. 97-3-87. Threats and intimidation; whitecapping MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, As Amended.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anon. "For Whitecapping Negress." The New York Times. 10 Nov 1903, national ed.:1. See http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9902E7DA1730E233A25753C1A9679D946297D6CF
  • Crozier, E. W The White-caps : a history of the organization in Sevier County Knoxville, Tenn. : Bean, Warters & Gaut 1899
  • Holmes, William. "Whitecapping: Anti-Semitism in the Populist Era." American Jewish Historical Quarterly. 63 (1974): 244 – 261.
  • Holmes, William. "Whitecapping: Agrarian Violence in Mississippi, 1902–1906." The Journal of Southern History. 35 (1969): 165 – 185. In JSTOR
  • McCormick, Chris and Green, Len, eds. "Crime and Deviance in Canada: Historical Perspectives." 1st ed. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc, 2005.
  • Painter, Nell. "The Flames of Racial Hatred." The Washington Post. 4 Feb 1996, national ed.: X03.

External links[edit]