Executions and the Legacy of Race-Based Lethal Violence: Explaining Intra-Southern Variations in the Death Penalty

William S. Lofquist, SUNY College at Geneseo

Though the use of the death penalty is widely recognized as occurring disproportionately in the south, there is quite substantial variation in the intensity of death penalty use within this region. Texas, Virginia, Florida, and more recently Oklahoma are widely recognized as quite active in their use of the death penalty. Less well known is that Tennessee, Georgia, and, especially, Mississippi, make less active use of the death penalty, especially executions. Likewise there are substantial intra-state variations in use of the death penalty. The present research explores county and state level variations in use of the death penalty in the south in an effort to explain these variations and identify their meanings. Findings suggest the continuing relevance of historical factors, particularly patterns of slavery and lynchings. These findings are used to suggest that post-Furman executions are distributed according to the social realizability of vengeance.

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Updated 05/20/2006