Abstract

Scholars have repeatedly argued that Harry Truman’s decision to create the President’s Committee on Civil Rights would ultimately influence civil rights in the United States for many years afterward. However, scholars have been less clear in explaining what led Truman to act on civil rights in the first place. One important factor in the Truman administration’s creation of the committee that is often mentioned but almost never given as much attention as it deserves is the 1946 Georgia Lynching. Through a reception study of the articles, congressional debates, editorials, and speeches that responded to the murders, this essay argues that the murders of four African Americans in a small, rural town were transformed into a national focusing event because of how several key interpretive decisions emerged from the basic facts of the lynching in conjunction with larger cultural concerns. This analysis both highlights how the mass lynching came to have cultural significance and argues for the importance of rhetorical scholarship that engages the role of focusing events in both public debate and policy creation.

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