The concept of lynching, several hundred years old and unclear in its origins, has never really left the lexicon. The word itself, however, has taken on different meanings over the years, from a mob’s taking the law into its own hands, to an organized utilization of racial violence as a means of societal control and intimidation; and finally to the more casual and defensive use of the word (“high tech lynching”) by current Supreme Court justices Thomas and Kavanaugh and others after being questioned about their past behaviors. Many academics have opined that the modern system of capital punishment is an offspring of lynching. This essay examines that idea through the parallel lenses of the classic and almost forgotten western novel The Ox-Bow Incident, and the travails of Henry Lee McCollum, a low-functioning man who spent more than three decades in a North Carolina prison and came close to execution. In the simple and direct language of the Old West, The Ox-Bow Incident dissects a lynching from its nebulous beginnings to its predictable denouement. The McCollum case has virtually all of the same attributes as its fictional counterpart, and its outcome is just as predictable. Whether in art or life, the root causes of injustice turn out to be the same.



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