Research has shown a consistent link between historic lynching within a community and modern-day issues such as housing patterns or incarceration rates. In a new study, researchers from the University of South Carolina looked at the association between the history of lynching within a county and its present mortality rates.
The findings, published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, show that counties with higher rates of lynching between 1877 and 1950 had slightly higher mortality rates between 2010 and 2014 even after adjusting for other demographic factors.
From the Equal Justice Initiative, the researchers obtained county-level data about the number of lynchings — unpunished, racially motivated murders — between 1877 and 1950 for 1,221 counties in 12 Southern states. Numbers were standardized to the 1930 population figures, then divided into four categories, from lowest (no lynchings) to highest.
Next, the researchers obtained age-adjusted mortality rates for each county for 2010 to 2014 from the CDC Wonder database, the online public health information system of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Without adjusting for differences in county demographic circumstances, mortality ranged from 863 deaths per hundred thousand people in counties with no history of lynching to 910 in the counties where such crimes were committed most.
In their final analysis, the researchers statistically adjusted for factors that could affect mortality, such as the percent of county residents with health insurance, education levels, local unemployment rates, and similar considerations.
With these factors accounted for, the researchers concluded that living in a county with the strongest history of lynching, versus no such history, was still tied to higher mortality rates. They estimate that living in a high-lynching county is associated with 34.9 additional deaths per hundred thousand per year for white males, 23.7 deaths for white females, and 31 deaths for African-American females.
“While white mortality rates were still consistently lower than those of their African-American counterparts, this relative advantage was somewhat lessened by living in a county with a history of racial violence,” said researcher Janice Probst, who is still perplexed by the link between historic lynching and white mortality.
“This means that while being the target of race-based bias is the more severe condition, bias also has a cost for the dominant population.”
“Strange fruit yields strange harvest, among both black and white populations,” Probst said. “While we cannot change the past, we can identify key problems and work to change the future.”
The researchers urge epidemiologists and researchers focusing on health services to expand their focus to also include aspects of historic and current racism as a dependent variable.
“Racism in America has broadly negative effects. This landmark study may suggest that tackling racism head-on could provide health benefits in the future to not only Blacks, but to whites as well,” stated Cato T. Laurencin, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.