History Professor Publishes Book on Race, Religion, and Capital Punishment

By Michael Trotti, November 30, 2022

Michael Trotti has published a book tracing the impact of racism and of African American religion on the transition from public executions in the American South to ones behind walls, and then to electrocutions

Just out this month, The End of Public Execution: Race, Religion, and Punishment in the American South tells the story of how capital punishment in the South moved from hangings out in the open to ones behind walls and ultimately to electrocutions.  In an era of extreme and overt racism, most of those executed were black, and after the Civil War, these public executions became something the white, conservative governments did not want: instead of chastening rituals of retribution ("here is what happens to criminals, so beware"), public executions were framed by African American men (the condemned) and their ministers on this "stage" of the gallows, and huge mixed-race “congregations” joining in the singing of hymns and celebrating the confessed sinner returning to the Lord: men convicted of murder who proclaim that they are saved and that they will see you all in heaven! 

The book sets this transition from public to private, from mixed race (and gender) to white/male witnesses, within the context of white supremacy in the era, the changes in the legal codes of the South after the Civil War, and the history of African American religion, as well as the South's history of punishments, legal and extralegal (lynchings). For more, see the book’s web page linked here to the right.

Professor Trotti will be giving a book talk (/celebration) at Buffalo Street Books on Saturday, 4 February, at 3pm.  There will also be a zoom “international book launch” thanks to Ithaca College's FLEFF and PCIM programs, which will be in late March or early April, date and time TBD.