The Racial Position of European Immigrants 1883–1941: Evidence from Lynching in the Midwest

David Rigby, Charles Seguin

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4 Scopus citations


The racial position of European immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries vis-à-vis blacks and whites is debated. Some argue that many European immigrant groups were initially considered nonwhite, while others argue that they were almost always considered white, if sometimes still from a distinct intrawhite racial category. Using a new dataset of all lynchings in the American Midwest from 1883 to 1941, we explore differences in collective violence enacted upon three groups: native-born whites, blacks, and European immigrants. We find that European immigrants were lynched in ways, and at rates, much more similar to that of native whites than to those of blacks. Blacks in the Midwest were lynched at roughly 30 times the rate of native-born whites and European immigrants, and were sometimes ritually burned in massive “spectacle lynchings” while native whites and European immigrants were never burned. We find suggestive evidence that European immigrants were perceived to have posed threats to the political order. Our results suggest that, in the American Midwest, despite nativist othering, European immigrants were fully on the white side of the color line, and were protected from collective violence by their white status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)438-457
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Currents
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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