A new study from researchers at the University of South Florida found that counties in the South with the highest number of racial terror lynchings have the lowest life expectancy. Conversely, counties with no recorded history of lynchings have the highest life expectancy rate.
Analyzing data from EJI and other sources for 1,221 counties across 12 Southern states, the researchers found that the overall life expectancy for 2019 to 2020 in counties with no recorded lynchings was 76.6 years, compared to 75.5 years in counties with recorded lynchings.
Life expectancy is “one of the most robust and commonly used indicators of population health worldwide,” the study explains. Even small increments in life expectancy reflect “changes and trends in age-specific mortality.”
The researchers concluded that this discrepancy in life expectancy “suggest[s] that lynchings were pivotal in creating the social and physical environment affecting health outcomes in the U.S. South today.”
The study also found that counties with a history of lynchings currently rank worse in various socioeconomic indicators, such as having higher unemployment and child poverty rates, worse income inequality, and a lower primary care physician ratio, compared to counties with no recorded lynchings.
Additionally, researchers discovered that counties with the highest percentage of Black people had the lowest life expectancy—“a trend which may be explained by the transgenerational impact of white supremacist violence and racism.”
Between 1865 and 1950, more than 6,500 Black women, men, and children were victims of racial terror lynching in the U.S. and tens of thousands more were displaced and traumatized by white mob violence.
Mobs of white people in the South terrorized Black communities using racial violence and lynching to maintain white supremacy and suppress Black civil rights.
The violence and trauma of lynching has shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic landscape of Black people for generations. This study sheds light on the lasting impact of lynchings and racial terror on the health of people in the South.