Rope and Soap: how the Italians were lynched in the USA

Rope and Soap book cover

Corda e sapone by Patrizia Salvetti

Between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century there were dozens and dozens of our emigrants lynched in the United States by citizens, by “good citizens”, who instead of trial used a brisk justice, immediately putting hand to the rope and soap to hang them, relying on complicity of public authorities.

The history of this violence gives us the measure of how the Italians, considered a middle ground between whites and blacks, were discriminated against.

American justice always sent the guilty of such nefarious intolerance unpunished, going so far as to argue in one case that the lynching had taken place “by the will of God”.

As for Italy, the government was often incapable of a reaction to the height of so much brutality.

The “price of blood”: this is how the humiliating reparations paid by the American federal government to the families of the lynched Italians were called, in exchange for a justice that they had not wanted to do.

Thus the Italian newspaper in the United States did not exaggerate, commenting bitterly: “These Italians are so cheap that it is worth lynching them all.”

A dramatic and too often forgotten chapter in the history of Italian emigration is here reconstructed on the basis of a largely unpublished documentation.

The author analyzes the diplomatic controversies that the lynching cases had generated between the United States and Italy, an Italy destined to collect a series of failures without ever succeeding in obtaining that the “lynchers” were actually prosecuted and punished.

Patrizia Salvetti, is a professor at “La Sapienza” University in Rome. She is the author of various publications on political history and social history in the contemporary age, in particular the history of Italian emigration in the Americas: in the United States, Nicaragua, Chile and Argentina.

Read this archived Italo/Americano article
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