Lethal State: A History of the Death Penalty in North Carolina

Seth Kotch (Author)


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 helps 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.

Product Details

University of North Carolina Press
Publish Date
February 25, 2019
6.14 X 0.72 X 9.21 inches | 1.09 pounds
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About the Author

Seth Kotch is assistant professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Kotch convincingly captures the history and legacy of North Carolina's intersection of lynching and capital punishment, including its relatively on-again, off-again embrace of the latter from the colonial era to the current day.--ICCA Journal

Seth Kotch's impressive work focuses on the sinister impulse he sees as having driven both lynchings and executions in North Carolina. The book provides a harsh and enlightening history of the relationship between race and punishment in the State. . . . The level of detail and breadth of the information presented are impressive; the author's arguments are convincingly made; his presentation of the material is compelling.--Social Forces

No substantial volume has been devoted to the history of capital punishment in a single American state until Professor Kotch provided his detailed history of the death penalty in North Carolina.--North Carolina Historical Review