A Lynching at Port Jervis: Race and Reckoning in the Gilded Age

On February 23, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul introduced placement of plaques memorializing Robert Lewis and Robert Mulliner, Black males lynched within the New York cities of Port Jervis and Newburgh within the late 1800s. Philip Dray’s well timed A Lynching at Port Jervis tells Lewis’s story. He was accused of assaulting Lena McMahon, a White lady, on June 2, 1892, on the banks of the Neversink River. A number of White Port Jervis residents sought to make sure Lewis’s trial by due course of, however that evening a mob seized, tortured, and hanged him from a tree within the entrance yard of a White decide, who additionally tried to intervene.

{That a} horror usually related to the Jim Crow South occurred in a northern railroad city was stunning. Extra stunning had been efforts by Port Jervis residents to befog the guilt of these “individuals unknown” behind the gang homicide and to erase the lynching from collective native reminiscence. A transcript of the coroner’s public inquest into Lewis’s loss of life vanished and stays lacking. In step with the occasions, authorities sought and recorded little enter from contemporaneous Black sources. However, making use of strong nationwide and native press protection and private recollections, Dray weaves a compelling narrative.

A Lynching is as a lot an evaluation of Port Jervis and its individuals as of lynching as mob “justice.” Dray flatteringly describes the city’s social strata and key figures, together with the alleged sufferer, her mother and father, and her paramour, who might have conspired within the alleged assault. The creator additionally chronicles how literary luminaries Ida B. Wells and Stephen Crane tried to highlight the city’s hidden disgrace.

The guide has nits. Illustrations usually go unexplained, sending the reader repeatedly to the index. A Lynching would have benefited from extra detailed maps of the Delaware & Hudson Canal, pertinent rail strains, regional topography, and the ostensible and precise crime scenes. A Lynching at Port Jervis is a fast-paced account of a horrible episode and the way an American city buried the crimes. Dray portrays the atrocity early, then sifts the proof and the suspects towards a coroner’s inquest and two grand jury opinions, within the mode of an episode from a steampunk model of Regulation & Order—besides that in tv procedurals evildoers often come to grief. Within the Port Jervis of the Eighteen Nineties, the individuals unknown who slew Robert Lewis evaded justice. —Paul F. Bradley is an everyday contributor.

This guide evaluation appeared within the Autumn 2022 challenge of American Historical past journal.

A Lynching at Port Jervis: Race and Reckoning within the Gilded Age

By Philip Dray
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022

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