Lynching & Ida B. Wells
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Racism — Global Issues

Racism — Global Issues | Lynching & Ida B. Wells |

Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns.

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Women in the Progressive Era

Women in the Progressive Era | Lynching & Ida B. Wells |

In the 1890s, the growth of the black women’s club movement was spurned on by efforts to end lynching. Ida B. Wells-Barnett denounced lynching in the press. As she traveled the country lecturing about lynching, she also helped to found black women’s clubs. Many of these clubs addressed problems similar to those addressed by white women’s clubs, including health, sanitation, education, and woman suffrage. However, black women’s clubs also focused on combating racism and on racial uplift.

Click for biography 
Mary Church Terrell, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-54722

In 1896, black women’s clubs joined together to form the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACW) under the leadership of Mary Church Terrell. The motto of the NACW was “Lifting as We Climb.”

One of the most effective black women’s clubs was the Neighborhood Union in Atlanta, run by Lugenia Burns Hope. The Neighborhood Union divided the city into districts and zones, thus effectively reaching almost every black American in Atlanta.

YWCA Poster, Library of Congress, 

Black women also founded mutual benefit societies, settlement houses, and schools. Some black female workers, particularly laundresses in the South, made efforts to unionize and undertook strikes. Black women in the North also worked to provide services for black women recently arrived from the South. The National League for the Protection of Colored Women, which later merged with other organizations to form the National Urban League, and “colored chapters” of the YWCA offered services to female migrants.

Notable black women reformers include Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded the National Council of Negro Women, the Southeastern Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, and the Bethune-Cookman Institute, Nannie Helen Burroughs, who founded the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, DC, and Maggie Lena Walker, the first American woman bank president, who was also head of one of the largest and most successful black mutual benefit societies.

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Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells | Lynching & Ida B. Wells |
Ida B. Wells: Crusade for Justice


by Jennifer McBride


Ida B. Wells has been described as a crusader for justice, and as a defender of democracy. Wells was characterized as a militant and uncompromising leader for her efforts to abolish lynching and establish racial equality. Wells challenged segregation decades before Rosa Parks, ran for Congress and attended suffrage meetings with the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams, yet most of her efforts are largely unknown due to the fact that she is African American and female.

Ida B. Wells was born July 16, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, during the second year of the Civil War (Sterling 61). Her parents, James and Elizabeth Wells, were slaves, and thus Wells, a woman who devoted her life to promoting racial equality, was born a slave. It was from her parents that Wells developed an interest in politics and her unwavering dedication to achieving set goals. After emancipation, Jim Wells became heavily involved in politics. He was a member of the Loyal League (a local black political organization), he attended public "speakings" on the steps of the courthouse, and campaigned for local black political candidates (Sterling 65). Jim Wells' fervent interest in racial justice and political activism no doubt inspired his daughter's later interest in these same issues. Elizabeth Wells was a religious woman and a strict disciplinarian who dictated a strong work ethic. Both Jim and Elizabeth Wells emphasized the importance of education. After the Civil War, 90% of blacks were illiterate. Emancipation brought about the legalization of Negro education, and shortly thereafter, Negro schools were established throughout the south. Shaw University was established in Holly Springs in 1866 to provide education for the large, rural black community of the area (Duster 9). Wells along with her siblings and her mother (who wanted to learn to read the bible) attended Shaw University. She notes in her autobiography that "our job was to go to school and learn all we could" (Duster 9). During her years at Shaw, Wells developed an intense love of words. She reportedly read every book in the school library, from the novels of Louisa May Alcott and Charles Dickens to the Oliver Optic stores, a series of popular books for boys (Sterling 65). Early on in her education, Wells discovered a bias. At Shaw she learned mainly European history, and Wells notes in her autobiography that "I had read the bible and Shakespeare through, but I had never read a Negro book or anything about Negroes" (Duster 22).

In 1878, Wells' life changed forever, as a yellow fever epidemic swept through the region, claiming the lives of both her parents and a younger sibling (Sterling 66). Wells was visiting her grandmother's farm when the epidemic hit, and she was urged to remain in the country until the epidemic subsided. However, her devotion to her family prompted her to return home despite the warnings of doctors. In her autobiography Wells recalls her feelings at the time of the tragedy, "the conviction grew within me that I ought to be with them... I am going home. I am the oldest of seven living children. There's nobody but me to look after them now" (Duster 12). Determined to keep the family together, Wells refused all attempts at splitting up her remaining siblings. Instead, she insisted on caring for her five siblings, despite the fact that she was 16, unemployed and poor. At the urging of the local Masonic lodge where her father was a member, she applied for a teaching position in the country. She adjusted her appearance so as to look older than her mere 16 years. She passed the qualifying examine and was given a position six miles away. Friends and relatives stayed with the Wells children during the week when Ida was away at school. In her autobiography, Wells describes the burden of her dual role and caretaker and provider, "I came home every Friday afternoon, riding the six miles on the back of a big mule. I spent Saturday and Sunday washing and ironing and cooking for the children and went back to my country school on Sunday afternoon" (Duster 17).

In 1883, Wells moved 40 miles north to Memphis at the urging of her aunt Fannie, who promised ample opportunity for employment and offered to care for Wells' two younger sisters (Duster xvi). Wells accepted the offer, and shortly after her arrival in Memphis, she found employment at a school in Woodstock, Tennessee, about 10 miles outside the city. During her summer vacations, Wells took teachers' training courses at Fisk University and at Lemoyne Institute. By the fall of 1884 she had qualified to teach in the city schools and was assigned a first grade class where she taught for seven years(Sterling 67).

Wells' career as a writer was sparked by an incident that occurred on May 4, 1884. On this day, while riding a train back to her job in Woodstock, Wells was asked by the conductor to move from her seat in the ladies' car to the front of the train into the smoking car. When she refused, the conductor attempted to physically remove her from her seat. It took three men to remove Wells from her seat, and rather than move to the smoking car, she got off at the next stop to the cheers of the white passengers on the train (Duster 18). When Wells got back to Memphis, she immediately hired a lawyer to bring suit against the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. The court returned a verdict in favor of Wells and awarded her $500 in damages. The judge presiding over the trial stated the railroad company violated the separate but equal clause by forcing blacks to ride in smoking car that was separate but not first class, as Wells had paid for. The railroad appealed the verdict and in 1887, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court, and Wells was ordered to pay court costs. The was the first case of its kind in the south and it generated tremendous public interest. Thrilled with her victory and eager to share her story, Wells wrote an article for The Living Way, a black church weekly. Her article was so well received that the editor of The Living Way asked for additional contributions. As a result, Wells began a weekly column entitled "Iola." Wells described her purpose in writing Iola as "I had an instinctive feeling that the people who have little or no school training should have something coming into their homes weekly which dealt with their problems in a simple, helpful way... so I wrote in a plain, common-sense way on the things that concerned our people (Duster 23-24). By 1886, Wells' articles were appearing in prominent black newspapers across the nation. As she traveled through Tennessee and witnessed the deplorable living conditions of blacks, her voice grew bolder and she began to attacking larger issues of discrimination and inequality, such as poverty and lack of educational opportunities. In 1889 Wells was offered an editorship of a small Memphis newspaper called Free Speech and Headlight and became part-owner (Sterling 75). Wells' flaming editorials condemned white establishments for their continual oppression of blacks. In 1891 she was fired from her teaching position because of her editorials criticizing the Memphis School Board of Education for conditions in "separate" colored schools (Duster 37).

During the late 1800's, violence against blacks increased at alarming rates and mob rule was becoming the norm. The KKK established a "reign of terror," murdering and lynching innocent blacks, while most southern whites looked the other way. In 1892, Ida B. Wells was again faced with tragedy in what became known as the "Lynching at the Curve." In March 1892, three close friends of Wells, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart, opened the People's Grocery Company. The store was located directly across the street from a white-owned grocery store, which had hitherto maintained a monopoly on, what Wells described as, "the trade of this thickly populated colored suburb" (Duster 48). Angered over the loss of business, a white mob gathered to run the black grocers out of town. Warned about the encroaching mob, the black men armed themselves, and in the ensuing confrontation, wounded three white men who had invaded the store. The next day, white newspapers printed exaggerated accounts of the previous day's events, claiming that "Negro desperadoes" had shot white men (Sterling 78). These sensationalized depiction's gave rise to another mob that stormed the jail cells of the three black men and killed them. Wells responded to this atrocious act of violence by writing an editorial in the Free Speech urging blacks to leave Memphis. She wrote "There is therefore only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons." In two month's time, six thousand black people left Memphis, many relocating to the Oklahoma Territory. Those who remained, including Wells, organized boycotts of white owned businesses in response to the lynchings (Sterling 80). The Lynching at the Curve marked the beginning of Wells' anti-lynching campaign. She continued to write scathing editorials against lynching, gave public speakings on the subject and began to organize and mobilize blacks in an effort to abolish the practice. Wells also began a comprehensive study of lynching. In 1892 Wells spoke at a conference of black women's clubs, where she was given $500 to investigate lynching and publish her findings. Wells began investigating the fraudulent charges given as reasons to lynch black men. She found that many blacks were hung, shot and burned to death for trivial things such as not paying a debt, disrespecting whites, testifying in court, stealing hogs, and public drunkenness. Her findings were published in a pamphlet entitled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. In particular, Wells found that one third of the charges against black men were for the rape of white women. The violence was thus "justified" in that it was protecting "white womanhood." Wells found that in many of these "rape" cases there was evidence of a consensual relationship between black men and white women. Wells' implications caused outrage among the white community. A mob destroyed the office of her newspaper and threatened to kill her. Wells was speaking in Philadelphia at the time of the mob. Unable to return to her home, she re-settled in Chicago and continued her anti-lynching campaign. The New York Age began printing her articles after the demise of The Free Speech, and Wells launched a lecturing tour throughout the northeast to further spread her message on the horrors of lynching.

In 1893, Wells took her anti-lynching campaign overseas. For two months Wells toured England, Scotland and Wales, giving speeches and meeting with leaders. Wells was impressed by the progressive activities and civic groups of British women. She wrote to her readers back home urging them to become more active in the affairs of their community, city and nation through organized civic clubs. While In England, Wells established the London Anti-Lynching Committee. Back home in the US, she continued her organizing efforts by establishing the first Negro women's civic clubs in Chicago and Boston, and was influential in the formation of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. Also during this period, Wells was also becoming more active in the suffrage movement. She became a familiar face at various suffrage meetings around the country, befriending both Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams.

Later that year, Wells collaborated with Frederick Douglass and others, including her future husband, in writing a pamphlet entitled "Reasons Why the Colored American is not in the World's Colombian Exposition" which documented the progress of blacks since their arrival in America. The pamphlet was in response to the exclusion of blacks in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and was distributed to over 20,000 people (Sterling 93).

In 1894, Wells embarked on another speaking tour through England. On her return, she published A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1894. This 100 page book expanded on her earlier research and documented the history of lynching since the Emancipation Proclamation. In order not to be accused of exaggeration, Wells took her information from a white source. She tabulated the number of lynchings reported in the Chicago Tribunal and tallied the various charges given. Her findings documented the alarming high occurrence of lynchings and the rather ridiculous charges filed against black men. For example, she found that in 1894 "197 persons were put to death by mobs who gave the victims no opportunity to make a lawful defense" (Duster xxii). Furthermore, she found that over two-thirds of lynchings were for incredibly petty crimes such as stealing hogs and quarreling with neighbors.

In 1895, at the age of 33, Wells married Ferdinand L. Barnett, a Chicago lawyer, activist and editor. Barnett was the owner and founder of the first black newspaper in Chicago, the Conservator. After their marriages, Wells bought the Conservator from Barnett and took over the duties of editor. Wells gave nightly addresses up until a week to the day she was married (Duster 241). Her marriage caused quite a stir in the Chicago area and abroad. Many were concerned she would abandon her cause and resign herself to the home and children. Wells gave birth to her first child in 1896. Throughout her son's infancy, she continued to travel, write and encourage women to organize. The following year she gave birth to another son, and as she states in her autobiography, "all this public work was given up and I retired to the privacy of my home to give my attention to the training of my children" (Duster 250). Wells had two more children, both girls, born 1901 and 1904.

On her return to public life, Wells continued her organizing efforts. In 1910 she formed the Negro Fellowship League. The NFL was housed in a three-story building on Chicago's south side. It served as a fellowship house for new settlers from the south. The NFL also provided a space for religious services, an employment office, and served as a homeless shelter for men.

The remaining years of Ida B. Wells' career were filled with more writing, activism and organizing. In 1909 she became one of the founders of the NAACP. In 1913 Wells established the first black women's suffrage club, called the Alpha Suffrage Club. That same year she marched in a suffrage parade in Washington DC and met with president McKinley about a lynching in South Carolina. The years following World War I she covered various race riots in Arkansas, East St. Louis and Chicago and published her reports in pamphlets and in the Conservator and newspapers nationwide. In 1928 Wells began her autobiography, stating that "the history of this entire period which reflected glory on the race should be known. Yet most of it is buried I oblivion... and so, because our youth are entitled to the facts of race history which only the participants can give, I am thus led to set forth the facts" (Duster 5). In 1930, her impatience with politicians and her growing concern for Chicago's black ghetto led Wells to run for the Illinois state senate, which she lost to the incumbent.

Ida B. Wells died March 25, 1931. She left behind a legacy of activism, dedication and hope for change. Wells' accomplishments are truly extraordinary given the time and social context in which they occurred. Wells traveled throughout the United States and Europe with her anti-lynching message, she wrote extensively throughout her life on the injustices faced by blacks, and she engaged in a never-ending effort to organize women and blacks. Toward the end of her life she became an ardent community activist, determined to change the path of poverty and crime in Chicago's inner city. Wells work as a writer, social researcher, activist, and organizer, mark her as one of this century's most dynamic and remarkable women.


Works Cited:

Duster, A. (Ed.) (1970). Crusade for justice: The autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sterling, D. (1988). Black Foremothers. New York: The Feminist Press.



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Ida B. Wells-Barnett(1862-1931) and Her Passion for Justice, Black Women, African American Women, Sufferage, Women's Movement, Civil Rights Leaders

Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Her Passion for Justice 
Lee D. Baker

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a fearless anti-lynching crusader, suffragist, women's rights advocate, journalist, and speaker. She stands as one of our nation's most uncompromising leaders and most ardent defenders of democracy. She was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862 and died in Chicago, Illinois 1931 at the age of sixty-nine.

Although enslaved prior to the Civil War, her parents were able to support their seven children because her mother was a "famous" cook and her father was a skilled carpenter. When Ida was only fourteen, a tragic epidemic of Yellow Fever swept through Holly Springs and killed her parents and youngest sibling. Emblematic of the righteousness, responsibility, and fortitude that characterized her life, she kept the family together by securing a job teaching. She managed to continue her education by attending near-by Rust College. She eventually moved to Memphis to live with her aunt and help raise her youngest sisters.

It was in Memphis where she first began to fight (literally) for racial and gender justice. In 1884 she was asked by the conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to give up her seat on the train to a white man and ordered her into the smoking or "Jim Crow" car, which was already crowded with other passengers. Despite the 1875 Civil Rights Act banning discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or color, in theaters, hotels, transports, and other public accommodations, several railroad companies defied this congressional mandate and racially segregated its passengers. It is important to realize that her defiant act was before Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the fallacious doctrine of "separate but equal," which constitutionalized racial segregation. Wells wrote in her autobiography:

I refused, saying that the forward car [closest to the locomotive] was a smoker, and as I was in the ladies' car, I proposed to stay. . . [The conductor] tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand. I had braced my feet against the seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn't try it again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him and of course they succeeded in dragging me out.

Wells was forcefully removed from the train and the other passengers--all whites--applauded. When Wells returned to Memphis, she immediately hired an attorney to sue the railroad. She won her case in the local circuit courts, but the railroad company appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, and it reversed the lower court's ruling. This was the first of many struggles Wells engaged, and from that moment forward, she worked tirelessly and fearlessly to overturn injustices against women and people of color.

Her suit against the railroad company also sparked her career as a journalist. Many papers wanted to hear about the experiences of the 25-year-old school teacher who stood up against white supremacy. Her writing career blossomed in papers geared to African American and Christian audiences.

In 1889 Wells became a partner in the Free Speech and Headlight. The paper was also owned by Rev. R. Nightingale-- the pastor of Beale Street Baptist Church. He "counseled" his large congregation to subscribe to the paper and it flourished, allowing her to leave her position as an educator.

In 1892 three of her friends were lynched. Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart. These three men were owners of People's Grocery Company, and their small grocery had taken away customers from competing white businesses. A group of angry white men thought they would "eliminate" the competition so they attacked People's grocery, but the owners fought back, shooting one of the attackers. The owners of People's Grocery were arrested, but a lynch-mob broke into the jail, dragged them away from town, and brutally murdered all three. Again, this atrocity galvanized her mettle. She wrote in The Free Speech

The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms. The white mob could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order is rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes. There is therefore only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.

Many people took the advice Wells penned in her paper and left town; other members of the Black community organized a boycott of white owned business to try to stem the terror of lynchings. Her newspaper office was destroyed as a result of the muckraking and investigative journalism she pursued after the killing of her three friends. She could not return to Memphis, so she moved to Chicago. She however continued her blistering journalistic attacks on Southern injustices, being especially active in investigating and exposing the fraudulent "reasons" given to lynch Black men, which by now had become a common occurrence.

In Chicago, she helped develop numerous African American women and reform organizations, but she remained diligent in her anti-lynching crusade, writingSouthern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. She also became a tireless worker for women's suffrage, and happened to march in the famous 1913 march for universal suffrage in Washington, D.C. Not able to tolerate injustice of any kind, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, along with Jane Addams, successfully blocked the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago.

In 1895 Wells married the editor of one of Chicago's early Black newspapers. She wrote: "I was married in the city of Chicago to Attorney F. L. Barnett, and retired to what I thought was the privacy of a home." She did not stay retired long and continued writing and organizing. In 1906, she joined with William E.B. DuBois and others to further the Niagara Movement, and she was one of two African American women to sign "the call" to form the NAACP in 1909. Although Ida B. Wells was one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she was also among the few Black leaders to explicitly oppose Booker T. Washington and his strategies. As a result, she was viewed as one the most radical of the so-called "radicals" who organized the NAACP and marginalized from positions within its leadership. As late as 1930, she became disgusted by the nominees of the major parties to the state legislature, so Wells-Barnett decided to run for the Illinois State legislature, which made her one of the first Black women to run for public office in the United States. A year later, she passed away after a lifetime crusading for justice.

Lee D. Baker, April 1996. (ldbaker at Source: Franklin, Vincent P. 1995 Living Our Stories, Telling Our Truths: Autobiography and the Making of African American Intellectual Tradition. 1995: Oxford University Press.


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Race & Ethnicity: The Fight Against Racism Today

This educational discussion aims to raise the level of understanding and stimulate militant action of our Party in the fight against racism.

The fight against racism is an immediate and urgent challenge to our Party. To meet this challenge, we are undertaking a new level of collective ideological struggle within the Party to deepen our working-class approach to this struggle.

We need an updated assessment of where the class and people's movements are in the fight against racism, of the specific expressions of the increased level of racism and its impact on the class struggle. There are many new developments, the significance of which has not yet been fully grasped. A full collective discussion will make clearer our picture of how mass thought patterns and class consciousness are being influenced by the increased use of racism by the ruling class, a full discussion of our Party's collective experience in the fight against racism will improve our practical work and initiative.

The discussion should strengthen understanding of what is needed to build the strongest, broadest unity to help the movements go on the offensive.

The document discusses the following areas:

what are the main features of the ruling class' increased promotion of racism; how does the increase in racism relate to the systemic crisis of capitalism; what are the key issues in the fight against racism today; what are the basics of our Marxist-Leninist analysis and approach; what is the Party's role on this critical fight.

Effect of Systemic Crisis - The deepening of capitalism's systemic crisis combined with the legacy of 12 years of Reagan-Bush's unprecedentedly racist offensive, which has been extended and deepened by the Clinton administration, have brought about a dramatic increase in the effects of racism. The fact that there are still some illusions about the nature of this administration has made it more difficult to fight in some ways.

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Lynching in America | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Lynching in America | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History | Lynching & Ida B. Wells |

The number of violent acts against African Americans accelerated during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began compiling lynching statistics in 1912, thirty years after the Chicago Tribune and twenty years after the Tuskegee Institute started tracking such crimes. In November 1922, the NAACP ran full page ads in newspapers pressing for the passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. Entitled “The Shame of America,” the ad laid out the shocking statistics of lynching from 1899 through 1922. The bill was passed by a two-to-one majority in the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate. A few years later, the NAACP issued the statistics as a broadside. Entitled “For the Good of America,” it encouraged citizens to “aid the organization which has been fighting for ten years to wipe out our shame.” Despite the NAACP’s vigorous efforts through the 1930s and the introduction of several subsequent bills, the US Congress never outlawed lynching.

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Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History

Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Lynching and the Excuse for It (1901)

 Primary Source Document


In the twenty years after 1885 there were more lynchings in the United States than legal executions. The great majority of victims were African Americans, who, after a brief period of political power in the South during Reconstruction, by the turn of the twentieth century had been disfranchised and deprived of work and educational opportunities. Lynching and discrimination were a national, rather than a particularly Southern, problem, however. Neither federal nor state governments took any effective action to combat lynchings. But the issue was brought before the public by African American spokesmen, foremost of whom was journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, head of the antilynch crusade, who lectured throughout the United States and Europe on the subject for several years. In the following article published in 1901, she attacks the premise that lynching was merely an extralegal means of securing justice.

It was eminently befitting that the Independent"s first number in the new century should contain a strong protest against lynching. The deepest dyed infamy of the 19th century was that which, in its supreme contempt for law, defied all constitutional guarantees of citizenship, and during the last fifteen years of the century put to death 2,000 men, women, and children by shooting, hanging, and burning alive. Well would it have been if every preacher in every pulpit in the land had made so earnest a plea as that which came from Miss Addams" forceful pen.

Appreciating the helpful influences of such a dispassionate and logical argument as that made by the writer referred to, I earnestly desire to say nothing to lessen the force of the appeal. At the same time, an unfortunate presumption used as a basis for her argument works so serious, though doubtless unintentional, an injury to the memory of thousands of victims of mob law that it is only fair to call attention to this phase of the writer"s plea. It is unspeakably infamous to put thousands of people to death without a trial by jury; it adds to that infamy to charge that these victims were moral monsters, when, in fact, four-fifths of them were not so accused even by the fiends who murdered them.

Almost at the beginning of her discussion, the distinguished writer says: “Let us assume that the Southern citizens who take part in and abet the lynching of Negroes honestly believe that that is the only successful method of dealing with a certain class of crimes.”

It is this assumption, this absolutely unwarrantable assumption, that vitiates every suggestion which it inspires Miss Addams to make. It is the same baseless assumption which influences ninety-nine out of every one hundred persons who discuss this question. Among many thousand editorial clippings I have received in the past five years, 99 percent discuss the question upon the presumption that lynchings are the desperate effort of the Southern people to protect their women from black monsters, and, while the large majority condemn lynching, the condemnation is tempered with a plea for the lyncher—that human nature gives way under such awful provocation and that the mob, insane for the moment, must be pitied as well as condemned. It is strange that an intelligent, law-abiding, and fairminded people should so persistently shut their eyes to the facts in the discussion of what the civilized world now concedes to be America"s national crime.

This almost universal tendency to accept as true the slander which the lynchers offer to civilization as an excuse for their crime might be explained if the true facts were difficult to obtain; but not the slightest difficulty intervenes. The Associated Press dispatches, the press clipping bureau, frequent book publications, and the annual summary of a number of influential journals give the lynching record every year. This record, easily within the reach of everyone who wants it, makes inexcusable the statement and cruelly unwarranted the assumption that Negroes are lynched only because of their assaults upon womanhood.

For an example in point: For fifteen years past, on the first day of each year, the Chicago Tribune has given to the public a carefully compiled record of all the lynchings of the previous year. Space will not permit a résumé of these fifteen years, but as fairly representing the entire time, I desire to briefly tabulate here the record of the five years last past. The statistics of the ten years preceding do not vary; they simply emphasize the record here presented.

The record gives the name and nationality of the man or woman lynched, the alleged crime, the time and place of the lynching. With this is given a résumé of the offenses charged, with the number of persons lynched for the offenses named. That enables the reader to see at a glance the causes assigned for the lynchings, and leaves nothing to be assumed. The lynchers, at the time and place of the lynching, are the best authority for the causes which actuate them. Every presumption is in favor of this record, especially as it remains absolutely unimpeached. This record gives the following statement of the colored persons lynched and the causes of the lynchings for the years named.

With this record in view, there should be no difficulty in ascertaining the alleged offenses given as justification for lynchings during the last five years. If the Southern citizens lynch Negroes because “that is the only successful method of dealing with a certain class of crimes,” then that class of crimes should be shown unmistakably by this record. Now consider the record.

It would be supposed that the record would show that all, or nearly all, lynchings were caused by outrageous assaults upon women; certainly that this particular offense would outnumber all other causes for putting human beings to death without a trial by jury and the other safeguards of our Constitution and laws.

But the record makes no such disclosure. Instead, it shows that five women have been lynched, put to death with unspeakable savagery, during the past five years. They certainly were not under the ban of the outlawing crime. It shows that men, not a few but hundreds, have been lynched for misdemeanors, while others have suffered death for no offense known to the law, the causes assigned being “mistaken identity,” “insult,” “bad reputation,” “unpopularity,” “violating contract,” “running quarantine,” “giving evidence,” “frightening child by shooting at rabbits,” etc. Then, strangest of all, the record shows that the sum total of lynchings for these offenses—not crimes—and for the alleged offenses which are only misdemeanors greatly exceeds the lynchings for the very crime universally declared to be the cause of lynching.

A careful classification of the offenses which have caused lynchings during the past five years shows that contempt for law and race prejudice constitute the real cause of all lynching. During the past five years, 147 white persons were lynched. It may be argued that fear of the “law"s delays” was the cause of their being lynched. But this is not true. Not a single white victim of the mob was wealthy or had friends or influence to cause a miscarriage of justice. There was no such possibility; it was contempt for law which incited the mob to put so many white men to death without a complaint under oath, much less a trial.

In the case of the Negroes lynched, the mobs" incentive was race prejudice. Few white men were lynched for any such trivial offenses as are detailed in the causes for lynching colored men. Negroes are lynched for “violating contracts,” “unpopularity,” “testifying in court,” and “shooting at rabbits.” As only Negroes are lynched for “no offense,” “unknown offenses,” offenses not criminal, misdemeanors, and crimes not capital, it must be admitted that the real cause of lynching in all such cases is race prejudice, and should be so classified.

Grouping these lynchings under that classification and excluding rape, which in some states is made a capital offense, the record for the five years, so far as the Negro is concerned, reads as follows:

This table tells its own story and shows how false is the excuse which lynchers offer to justify their fiendishness. Instead of being the sole cause of lynching, the crime upon which lynchers build their defense furnishes the least victims for the mob. In 1896 less than 39 percent of the Negroes lynched were charged with this crime; in 1897, less than 18 percent; in 1898, less than 16 percent; in 1899, less than 14 percent; and in 1900, less than 15 percent were so charged.

No good result can come from any investigation which refuses to consider the facts. A conclusion that is based upon a presumption instead of the best evidence is unworthy of a moment"s consideration. The lynching record, as it is compiled from day to day by unbiased, reliable, and responsible public journals, should be the basis of every investigation which seeks to discover the cause and suggest the remedy for lynching. The excuses of lynchers and the specious pleas of their apologists should be considered in the light of the record, which they invariably misrepresent or ignore.

The Christian and moral forces of the nation should insist that misrepresentation should have no place in the discussion of this all important question, that the figures of the lynching record should be allowed to plead, trumpet-tongued, in defense of the slandered dead, that the silence of concession be broken, and that truth, swift-winged and courageous, summon this nation to do its duty to exalt justice and preserve inviolate the sacredness of human life.

Source: Independent, May 16, 1901.  
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Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells | Lynching & Ida B. Wells |
This site offers information about the life and writings of Ida B. Wells, journalist and anti-lynching activist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.





The Anti-Lynching Pamphlets of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1920
by Patricia A. Schechter, Ph.D.,
Portland State University

Pamphlets written by Ida B. Wells-Barnett on the subject of lynching comprise a substantial body of innovative writing, reporting, and analysis in U.S. intellectual history. In the 1890s especially, nascent professional social scientists, media opinion shapers, and leaders in the black community acknowledged and relied on her work.1 Indeed, Ida B. Wells-Barnett's foundational insights into the complex social dynamics behind the lynching for rape scenario have stood the test of time in the more than one hundred years since she penned them; yet her status and recognition as a social critic in the ensuing years has been embattled, to say the least.2 At her death in 1931, for example, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) journal, The Crisis, that her work had been "easily forgotten" and "taken to greater success" by others.3 Wells-Barnett herself complained in a diary of the neglect of "my anti-lynching contribution" in early black history textbooks penned by the influential scholar Carter G. Woodson.4 This essay suggests that rather than comprising a "forgotten" body work, Ida B. Wells-Barnett's pamphlet writings were appropriated and transformed by peers and colleagues in social reform. In turn, they marginalized her as author and leader.

Wells-Barnett criticized racism and lynching at a moment of intense anxiety about authentic personhood and belonging in U.S. history, an anxiety that was often expressed in the idiom of racial and sexual struggle.5 In order to launch resistance to lynching, she had to prove that lynching's primary victims, African American men, were people worthy of sympathy and citizens deserving protection. At the same time, she needed to present herself — an educated, middle-class Southern woman of mixed racial ancestry — as a credible dispenser of truth, a "representative" public figure able to command social and amoral authority. The context of racism and sexism in which she functioned made both tasks difficult. Wells-Barnett described lynching as an expression of conflict over rights, physical integrity, human dignity, and social power and the movement to end it was similarly fraught and contentious.

The anti-lynching pamphlets written before 1900 combine statistical analysis, muckraking journalism, and a kind of "talking back" to power in which the everyday language of the social order is turned on its head for critical effect.6These elements are well-expressed in Wells-Barnett's first work, Southern Horrors, whose title mocked southern "honor" as a "horror" and which described southern society as a "white man's county" in which free speech and fair treatment were systematically denied to African Americans. The pamphlet refuted the justification for lynching as punishment for black on white rape by revealing that, according to published sources, fewer than 30% of reported lynchings even involved the charge of rape much less a legally proven case of it. This finding became the cornerstone of all subsequent arguments against lynching by a wide range of reformers and critics. Wells-Barnett further described white southerners' ascription of a bestial nature to black men as a ruse that hid a number of realities unflattering to would-be southern white male protectors. First, the rape charge obscured the economic and political competition that fueled white racial hostility toward African Americans in the post-Reconstruction era. Second, it hid the consensual and sometimes illicit sexual contacts between white women and black men that took place in the past and the present.7 Third, by describing rape as an inherent inclination of black men, white men's institutionalized sexual power over black women (which included long-standing patterns of abuse and victimization that arose under slavery and continued in its aftermath) was eclipsed by sensationalism and an appeal to "nature." Wells-Barnett's work in the 1890s tended to accent white women's agency and complicity in the lynching-for-rape scenario: their betrayals of black male consorts, their silent approval of punishment, or their active participation in mobs. More recent feminists note an additional purpose of the lynching for rape scenario: to instill fear and subordination in white women, who should rightly only feel safe at home. It was the issue of women's bodies that much of the controversy over Wells-Barnett's analysis and organizing focused in the 1890s. She insisted that the so-called black rapist was in reality the innocent victim of both the mob's blood lust and white women's sexual lust. Through the acknowledgement — even tacit endorsement — of the activities of "white Juliets [and] colored Romeos" Wells-Barnett countered white supremacists' dread of race mixing and degeneration with a story of potential racial equality.8 Instead of marking the beginning of the end of Anglo-Saxon civilization or the undoing of God's work of creation, Wells-Barnett read sex across the color line as evidence of shared culture and common humanity. But because interracial marriage was prohibited by legal and social authorities, sexual contacts across the color line involving white women were stringently policed and those involving black women were ignored; both dynamics endangered black people much more than white.

Thus the anti-lynching pamphlets of the 1890s comprised a comprehensive view of southern racialized sexual politics: a vindication of black men as true men, a critique of white southern would-be male protectors as corrupt, an expose of white women as active participants in white supremacist sexual politics, and a re-centering of black women's experiences in the dynamics of rape, lynching, and sexualized racism. Wells-Barnett's pamphlets documented not sideline suffering but attacks — lynching and rape — on black women and girls. In so doing, she staked a claim of outraged womanhood for African American women that was first articulated by opponents of slavery but which was becoming unthinkable under white supremacist ideology nearing the end of the nineteenth century. Wells-Barnett described the rape of black women as of a piece with the lynching of black men: lynching and rape formed a web of racist sexual politics designed to subjugate all African Americans.

Usually, Ida B. Wells-Barnett accented race to make the case for unequal power across the color line. She and other southern African Americans were keenly aware that the rise of Jim Crow threatened to empower all "whites" over and against all "blacks" regardless of class status, Christian standing, or natural ability. At moments, however, she tweaked the concept of "race" itself, mocking the very notion of fixed racial boundaries and the supposed "black and white of it" — a sarcastic reference to the ubiquitous newsprint carrying descriptions of — indeed, advertisements for — lynchings.9 Her writings pointed to ongoing sexual contact across the color line, to the population of southerners of mixed racial ancestry, and to cases in which white men committed crimes with their faces blackened, in a kind of perverse racial theater designed to thwart the law. In other words, Wells-Barnett exposed how taken-for-granted concepts like "race" and "rape" were socially constructed and politically deployed. In so doing, she challenged readers to examine the assumption that held their personal identities and sense of the social order together. It was a challenge few joined and many resisted, even to the point of violence. The attacks on her Memphis newspaper office, the threat of lynching against her that appeared in print, and a physical assault in New York City underscored how assuming the power to "talk back" provoked defenders of white supremacy and meant her very life. In this context, the pamphlets' concluding emphasis on action, self-help, and political strategies for change including coalitions with sympathetic whites merit attention. Ida B. Wells-Barnett's later writings engage the evolving patterns of racial conflict outside the southern context. These works suggest that stereotypes about black male deviance and depravity became more of an assumption than flag or banner for instigating and rationalizing racial attacks. Her analysis of riots in New Orleans, East St. Louis, and Arkansas involved critiques of the criminal justice system — law enforcement and the court system — which began to take over the work of black subordination in the twentieth century. In her analysis of events in Arkansas in 1919, Wells-Barnett attended to the ways in which black women as well as men became caught up in white supremacist campaigns and how they fought back. In all these writings, she emphasizes strategies for resistance. Unlike the early anti-lynching pamphlets, which were acknowledged, cited, or implicitly referred to by a cross section of reformers and critics, these later works seem not to have circulated much beyond Chicago — with the important exception of The East St. Louis Massacre. Historian Linda McMurray discovered a copy in Military Intelligence Division Papers of National Archives of the United States, a reminder of federal surveillance of African Americans suspected of disloyalty in the World War I era and proof of the perception of Wells-Barnett as a potential trouble maker vis-á-vis the dominant racial order. 10

Over time, Ida B. Wells-Barnett's willingness to speak plainly about sexuality, her frank religious commitments in a skeptical and materialistic age, and her ideological rather than biological understanding of "race" in social life and politics fell out of favor with trends in social reform and civil rights agitation. The NAACP, founded in 1909, adopted a legislative approach to ending lynching, and a small handful of anti-lynching bills went down to defeat by the U.S. Senate in the interwar period.11 As the progressive era unfolded, theoretically any professional armed with documented or scientific fact was empowered to speak definitively on lynching and race. Wells-Barnett's authority as a witness, southerner, and black woman drew on her status as victim and survivor. In the new era, legal and scientific credentials, usually more accessible to men than women, moved to the center of organized reform and figures like Du Bois or Woodson looked past her contributions to the struggle. Beginning in the 1980s, however, a fresh appraisal of African American women's history by scholars like Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Paula Giddings, and Hazel V. Carby refocused academic attention on Ida B. Wells-Barnett and as a result, her work has become much more accessible and regularly accounted for in the teaching and study of African American history in U.S. secondary and higher education.

Dorothy R. Cook 's curator insight, June 23, 10:53 AM

Know your History. There are those that did battle that may bring a change in your life if you knew about them and their work and struggle. The gift to wtite and express your views by even by drawing pictures that reflect your opinions thru and by art drawn from the canvas of your heart. Could you use your creative gifts given by God and yes we all have them  to do things to bring about good things in the life of others and yourself. Not all challenges are for the negative. But for to make you think and choose to do better. You are successful use it and live. 


Psalms Chapter 1 verse 3.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the river of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither ; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.


We speak success in over and throughout each and every one of your lives both seperately and collectively together.