Lynch mobs were gangs of men who took it upon themselves to impart their own form of justice on a black person who they felt had committed a ‘crime.’ Very often these so-called crimes were simple misdemeanours based on hearsay and gossip. Even when no crime had been committed, lynch mobs would take the law into their own hands. The lynch mob would usually kidnap their victim, torture them and then hang them from a tree. The bodies were left to hang as a warning of what could happen to other black people if they did something a white person did not like.
Members of a group called the Ku Klux Klan were often responsible for these lynchings. The KKK, as they became known, began as early as 1865 in America. They often wore white hoods to protect their identity and to make themselves appear even more frightening to their victims. They fight for white supremacy over black people and have been responsible for many of the tortures and lynchings that have happened to black people. The Ku Klux Klan is mentioned in Chapter 15 when Atticus tries to convince Jem that such
nonsense does not exist in Maycomb:
Way back about nineteen twenty there was a Klan, but it was a political organization more than anything. Besides, they couldn’t find anybody to scare... The Ku Klux’s gone,” said Atticus. “It’ll never come back.
This is one of the very few times when Atticus is wrong. He has underestimated the passionate hatred of black people felt by some of the white inhabitants of Maycomb and how this will drive them to attempt an act of pure hatred such as lynching.
By the time Harper Lee was writing To Kill a Mockingbird black people were trying to change the constant racism they were faced with. In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a black woman called Rosa Parks refused to do as she was supposed to do and give up her seat for a white person. This led to her being arrested and being fined ten dollars. However, it also encouraged other black people to decide to show their support for her. For just over a year black people refused to use the buses. The bus companies lost a large amount of money. Black people were threatened with violence and the loss of their jobs but they refused to give in until the Supreme Court ruled that there should no longer be segregation on buses. Martin Luther King, a black minister who later won the Nobel Prize was heavily involved in such campaigns for equal rights for black people. It was against this push for civil rights for black people that Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.