Digital History>eXplorations>Lynching>The Debate Over Lynching Begins>Ray Baker

Ray Stannard Baker, American Magazine, Following the Color Line (1908)

In the sixteen years from 1884 to 1900 the number of persons lynched in the United States was 2,516. Of these 2,080 were in the Southern states and 436 in the North; 1,678 were Negroes and 801 were white men; 2,465 were men and 51 were women. Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia - the black belt states - are thus seen to have the worst records.

Every argument on lynching in the South gets back sooner or later to the question of rape. Ask any high-class citizen - the very highest - if he believes in lynching, and he will tell you roundly, "No". Ask him about lynching for rape, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he will instantly weaken.

Lynching, he says, is absolutely necessary to keep down this crime. You ask him why the law cannot be depended upon, and he replies: "It is too great an ordeal for the self-respecting white woman to go into court and accuse the Negro ravisher and withstand a public cross-examination. It is intolerable. No woman will do it. And, besides, the courts are uncertain. Lynching is the only remedy."

If the white man sets an example of non-obedience to law, of non-enforcement of law, and an example of non-obedience to law, of non-enforcement of law, and of unequal justice, what can be expected of the Negro? A criminal father is a poor preacher of homilies to a wayward son. The Negro sees a man, white or black, commit murder and go free, over and over again in all these lynching counties. Why should he fear to murder?

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