Join us for the international launch of Michael Trotti's new book, The End of Public Execution: Race, Religion, and Punishment in the American South

Author Michael Ayers Trotti in conversation with historians about his new book which focuses on the shift from public executions, situated in lynching and competing visions of justice and religion.

"Trotti demonstrates how African Americans subverted the didactic component of 'legal' executions and transformed an expression of white authority and terror into a potentially redemptive ceremony. A timely contribution to African American, southern, religious, and criminal justice history."

Jeffrey S. Adler, author of Murder in New Orleans: The Creation of Jim Crow Policing


Claire Gleitman, Dean, School of Humanities and Sciences, Ithaca College

Salute to the Book        
Amy Louise Wood, Illinois State University and fellow at the National Humanities Center

Michael Ayers Trotti, author

Carole Emberton, University at Buffalo

Join the Conversation!

Michael Trotti in conversation with Carole Emberton
Tuesday, April 4, 7 pm.
On Zoom

Register in advance for this meeting: 

cosponsored by the Park Center for Independent Media and The Edge



Before 1850, all legal executions in the South were performed before crowds that could number in the thousands; the last legal public execution was in 1936.

This study focuses on the shift from public executions to ones behind barriers, situating that change within our understandings of lynching and competing visions of justice and religion. Intended to shame and intimidate, public executions after the Civil War had quite a different effect on southern Black communities.

Crowds typically consisting of as many Black people as white behaved like congregations before a macabre pulpit, led in prayer and song by a Black minister on the scaffold. Black criminals often proclaimed their innocence and almost always their salvation. This turned the proceedings into public, mixed-race, and mixed-gender celebrations of Black religious authority and devotion.

In response, southern states rewrote their laws to eliminate these crowds and this Black authority, ultimately turning to electrocutions in the bowels of state penitentiaries. As a wave of lynchings crested around the turn of the twentieth century, states transformed the ways that the South's white-dominated governments controlled legal capital punishment, making executions into private affairs witnessed only by white people.



Michael Ayers Trotti is Professor of History at Ithaca College. He is the author of The Body in the Reservoir: Murder and Sensationalism in the South. He is also a contributing write to The Edge. 

Read Michael Trotti's piece for The Edge, "The Racism of American Capital Punishment"

About the Presenters


Amy Louise Wood specializes in American cultural and intellectual history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the history of the U.S. South. She is the author of Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940 (2009), which examines visual representations of lynching and the construction of white supremacy in the Jim Crow era. Lynching and Spectacle won the Lillian Smith Book Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in History. Her most recent book is Crime and Punishment in the Jim Crow South (2019), co-edited with Natalie Ring.

She is also the co-guest editor of issue of Mississippi Quarterly on lynching, representation, and memory (2008) and the editor of the volume on violence for the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture ( 2011). Her current book project, "Sympathy for the Devil: The Criminal in the American Imagination" (under contract, Oxford University Press) is an intellectual and cultural history of crime and punishment at the turn of the twentieth century.


Carole Emberton is Professor of History at the University at Buffalo. Her research  focuses on the U.S. South, race, slavery, and emancipation. Her new book, To Walk About in Freedom: The Long Emancipation of Priscilla Joyner (2022), tells the extraordinary story of one woman and her quest, along with other formerly enslaved people, to build free lives after the Civil War. 

Her first book, Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South after the Civil War (2013), explores how the violence of a protracted civil war shaped the meaning of freedom and citizenship in the new South. While some imagined redemption from the brutality of slavery and war, others—like the infamous Ku Klux Klan—sought political and racial redemption for their losses through violence. Beyond Redemption merges studies of race and American manhood with an analysis of post-Civil War American politics to offer unconventional and challenging insight into the violence of Reconstruction.