After the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan in 1867 the number of lynching of African American increased dramatically. The main objective of the KKK was to maintain white supremacy in the South, which they felt was under threat after their defeat in the Civil War. It has been estimated that between 1880 and 1920, an average of two African Americans a week were lynched in the United States.There was a decline in lynching during the First World War but more than seventy blacks were murdered in this way in the year after the war ended. Ten black soldiers, several still in their army uniforms, were amongst those lynched. Between 1919 and 1922, a further 239 blacks were lynched by white mobs and many more were killed by individual acts of violence and unrecorded lynchings. In none of these cases was a white person punished for these crimes. .
Dr. Arthur Raper was commissioned in 1930 to produce a report on lynching. He discovered that "3,724 people were lynched in the United States from 1889 through to 1930. Over four-fifths of these were Negroes, less than one-sixth of whom were accused of rape. Practically all of the lynchers were native whites. The fact that a number of the victims were tortured, mutilated, dragged, or burned suggests the presence of sadistic tendencies among the lynchers. Of the tens of thousands of lynchers and onlookers, only 49 were indicted and only 4 have been sentenced.".
The NAACP hoped that the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 would bring an end to lynching. Two African American campaigners against lynching, Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter Francis White, had been actively involved in helping Roosevelt to obtain victory. The president's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, had also been a long-time opponent of lynching. .
Robert F. Wagner and Edward Costigan agreed to draft a bill that would punish the crime of lynching. In 1935 attempts were made to persuade Roosevelt to support the Costigan-Wagner bill.