Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Allen, Annette C.

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Chandler, Karen M.

Author's Keywords

Gender studies; Anti-lynching drama; Lynching in America; Black women dramatists; Black theatre


Lynching in literature; Women social reformers--United States--History--20th century; Lynching--United States--History; Women authors, American--20th century


Ten lynching dramas are analyzed and compared in this dissertation. In all ten, written by African American and white women authors, between 1916-1936, a combination of eight themes are presented: supremacy, hypocrisy, complicity, resistance, futility of black life, faith, trauma and motherhood. The intent of the analysis of themes is to determine each dramatist's representation of the themes through action, stage directions or elements of characterization. Following the examination of the dramas, a comparison is made between the similarities or differences that are apparent between those written by African American and white women authors. I have chosen to examine both groups of authors because at this time in history, white women joined the ASWPL (Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching) in an interracial effort to affect change and the curtailment of lynching. This dissertation offers an over-view of the historical climate of the South from Emancipation to the end of Reconstruction 1863-1877 . It includes a discussion on the genesis of lynching and the horrors of ritual sacrifice, along with the campaign against lynching that was influential in bringing attention to the phenomenon. The history of Black Theatre and Realistic Literature are also discussed in relation to the anti-lynching campaign that was begun by Ida B. Wells in 1892 and continued through the efforts of Southern white women under the guidance of Jessie Daniel Ames. The ten anti-lynching plays analyzed and compared in this work reveal the issues that faced both races: the white race confronting its own violence and the African American race resisting the temptation to remain silent about murder on the hanging tree. An estimated five thousand individuals died by the noose following the Civil War and into the mid-twentieth century. During that time, few perpetrators were convicted for their crimes, but hundreds of African American families lost loved ones because of racial prejudice. The anti-lynching dramas give an historical picture of the phenomenon that became a national embarrassment, and demonstrate how lives were destroyed at "the hands of persons unknown" (Dray, Cover: Title).