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A Law of Unintended Consequences: United States Postal Censorship of Lynching Photographs

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This paper addresses an oft-cited but unexamined footnote in the history of lynching photographs. In the midst of the federal government's recalcitrance to pass legislation against lynching practices, an obscure amendment to the Comstock Act was passed in 1908 prohibiting the sending of photographic postcards of lynchings through the United States mail. The law censoring these postcards, however, did no such thing. Using the examples of a few isolated cases in which lynching postcards were blocked from the mails, this article demonstrates the circuitous and inconsistent development of a national consensus against lynching and its photographic communiqu├ęs.
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Keywords: Anarchism; Censorship; Comstock Act; Lynching; Obscenity; Photography; Postcards

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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