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The gang of Old Sarum men led by Walter Cunningham Sr. who congregated at the jail was an old fashioned Southern lynch mob. Their intent was to forcibly remove Tom Robinson from his jail cell and take him to a "necktie party": a hanging. Cunningham and his cohorts had planned well: They had already called Sheriff Tate away into the deep woods on a "snipe hunt"--a bogus report that led the sheriff on a wild goose chase, leaving Tom undefended except by Atticus, who had previously been alerted that there might be trouble. Lynchings were a fact of life in the Deep South, and there were many instances of white men taking the law into their own hands--vigilante justice--by hanging or shooting black victims accused of some sort of crime or misbehavior, usually against whites. Cunningham was prepared: He came with plenty of men already emboldened by the aid of alcohol, and they were prepared to harm Atticus if necessary. But as Atticus pointed out later, "a mob's always made up of people," and Scout's innocent conversation with Mr. Cunningham reminded him that he was human and that maybe he wasn't capable of murder after all.
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