December 29th, 1890

Massacre at Wounded Knee

In the late nineteenth century, the United States Government began forcefully relocating Native Americans onto reservations, where they were dependent on the government for food and clothing.

In response, some Lakota embraced a religion called Ghost Dance, whose followers believed that Native Americans would become bulletproof and return to their freedom following a great apocalypse. The Ghost Dance performance and religion frightened the federal government and sensationalist newspapers across the country stoked fears about an uprising by Native Americans.

Sioux chief Sitting Bull led his people during years of resistance to United States government policies. He was killed by Indian agency police on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation on December 15, 1890, when authorities attempted to arrest him for his involvement in the Ghost Dance movement. Shortly after Sitting Bull’s killing, the Sioux surrendered and were marched to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

On the morning of December 29, 1890, 500 troops of the United States 7th Calvary Regiment surrounded a group of Lakota Sioux where they had made camp at Wounded Knee Creek. The troops entered the camp to disarm the Lakota. During a brief scuffle between a soldier and a Native American who refused to surrender his weapon, the rifle fired, alarming the rest of the troops. The troops began firing on Native Americans, who tried to recapture weapons and flee the assault.

The attack lasted for more than an hour and left more than 300 Lakota dead; over half of those killed were women, children, and elderly tribal members, and most of the dead were unarmed.


December 29th, 1900

Harvard Professor Recommends Legalization of Lynching

During the late nineteenth century, lynchings of African Americans became increasingly common. One estimate suggests that between 1882 and 1903, 3337 people were lynched in the United States, with 2585 of those cases occurring in the South.

African Americans were lynched for slander, throwing stones, slapping a child, and “being troublesome.” Lynchings employed brutal methods such as hanging, shooting, beating, and burning at the stake, and often involved white mobs overpowering law enforcement officers and militias in order to carry out these extrajudicial killings.

Lynchings became so common and flagrant that, at a meeting of the American Historical Association on December 29, 1900, Harvard Professor Albert Bushnell Hart recommended that states legalize the practice to maintain public safety and order.

While Hart personally opposed lynching and his suggestion was likely made rhetorically, many prominent figures did defend the practice. Benjamin Tillman, who served as governor of South Carolina and as a United States senator, wrote of the necessity of “send[ing] some more niggers to hell” and pledged that he would “willingly lead a mob in lynching a Negro who had committed an assault upon a white woman.”

A church leader in Jacksonville, Florida, wrote that “every time a Negro criminally assaults, or attempts to assault, a white woman, he shall be dealt with by mob law.” By the turn of the twentieth century, lynching was an entrenched practice terrorized black communities across the nation.