In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the death rate for African Americans soared, leading to the development of sociological theories concerning racial mortality. Observing the disproportionately high mortality figures for urban blacks in comparison to those of white Americans, including immigrant groups, scientists concluded that African Americans exhibited a natural propensity for, and a particular affinity with, death. Meanwhile, in the South, violence against black bodies escalated. Ida B. Wells noted in 1902 that the list of lynchings ‘is larger than for four years past, [and] the barbarism of this lawlessness is on the increase’. 1 Race riots, like the one in Wilmington, North Carolina, left hundreds of African Americans dead. Cities proudly displayed the spoils of recent lynchings: in Atlanta, for example, W.E.B. Du Bois saw the charred knuckles of Sam Hose still lying in a butcher’s shop weeks after his execution. 2 Thus, while academics sought to articulate a cultural correlative between African Americans and death, Southern whites made sure there was a physical correspondence.