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Photo Shows American Lynching Victim, Not South African Activist

Megan Healey Megan Healey
19th August 2021
Photo Shows American Lynching Victim, Not South African Activist
Mahlangu was killed in 1979, and this photo is from 1934 (Getty Images).

The Claim

A photo shows South African activist Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu moments before he was hanged.

Emerging story

Circulating on social media is a post about South African activist and freedom fighter Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu. “BEFORE HE WAS HANGED,” the post reads, “S. Africa's Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu said; ‘My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight, Aluta Continua.’” Accompanying the quote is a black and white photo that shows a black man with a noose around his neck, surrounded by white law enforcement officials.

A supporting image within the article body
A supporting image within the article body
A supporting image within the article body

Misbar’s Analysis

While the quote in the post is correctly attributed to Mahlangu, the photograph depicts American lynching victim James Keaton, who was executed in 1934 in Columbus, Mississippi. Mahlangu was hanged in Pretoria in 1979 under South Africa's apartheid government.

22-year-old James Keaton was lynched in Columbus, Missippi (Getty Images).

Mahlangu was an anti-apartheid activist who joined student protests in South Africa after the 1976 Soweto uprising. In 1977, Mahlangu and two others were involved in a shootout with police, and two bystanders were killed. He was convicted for the two murders, though they were not by his hand. Although international organizations such as the United Nations attempted to intervene, Mahlangu was executed by hanging at the age of 23.

Mahlangu is considered a significant figure in the resistance against apartheid. His story has been adapted into a film, and he has been commemorated in a number of public institutions and spaces, including a statue in Pretoria’s Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square. 

Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square set to boost tourism in Mamelodi –  Gauteng Tourism Authority
A statue of Solomon Mahlangu (Gauteng.net).

There is less known about the real man in the photo, 22-year-old James Keaton. He had been convicted of killing the owner of a service station where he worked in Mississippi, and his execution took place just a day later. Keaton was one of 5,000 African Americans killed by lynching between 1882 to 1968, according to records compiled by the NAACP, though historians believe the true number is underreported.

Misbar’s Classification


Misbar’s Sources

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