For years, American states have tinkered with the machinery of
death, seeking to align capital punishment with evolving social
standards and public will. Against this backdrop, North Carolina
had long stood out as a prolific executioner with harsh mandatory
sentencing statutes. But as the state sought to remake its
image as modern and business-progressive in the early twentieth
century, the question of execution preoccupied lawmakers,
reformers, and state boosters alike.
In this book, Seth Kotch recounts the history of the death penalty
in North Carolina from its colonial origins to the present. He
tracks the attempts to reform and sanitize the administration of
death in a state as dedicated to its image as it was to rigid
racial hierarchies. Through this lens, Lethal State
explain not only Americans' deep and growing uncertainty about the
death penalty but also their commitment to it.
Kotch argues that Jim Crow justice continued to reign in the guise
of a modernizing, orderly state and offers essential insight into
the relationship between race, violence, and power in North
Carolina. The history of capital punishment in North Carolina, as
in other states wrestling with similar issues, emerges as one of
state-building through lethal punishment.