Debate Over Lynching Begins>Ida Wells
Southern Horrors. Lynch Law in All Its Phases, 1892
is with no pleasure I have dipped my hands in the corruption here
exposed. Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more
sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon
me to do so. The awful death-roll that Judge Lynch is calling
every week is appalling, not only because of the lives it takes,
the rank cruelty and outrage to the victims, but because of the
prejudice it fosters and the stain it places against the good
name of a weak race.
Afro-American is not a bestial race. If this work can contribute
in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the
conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every
citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I
have done my race a service. Other considerations are of minor
York City, Oct. 26, 1892. IDA B. WELLS.
FRED. DOUGLASS'S LETTER
me give you thanks for your faithful paper on the lynch abomination
now generally practiced against colored people in the South. There
has been no word equal to it in convincing power. I have spoken,
but my word is feeble in comparison. You give us what you know
and testify from actual knowledge. You have dealt with the facts
with cool, painstaking fidelity and left those naked and uncontradicted
facts to speak for themselves.
woman! you have done your people and mine a service which can
neither be weighed nor measured. If American conscience were only
half alive, if the American church and clergy were only half christianized,
if American moral sensibility were not hardened by persistent
infliction of outrage and crime against colored people, a scream
of horror, shame and indignation would rise to Heaven wherever
your pamphlet shall be read.
But alas! even crime has power to reproduce itself and create
conditions favorable to its own existence. It sometimes seems
we are deserted by earth and Heaven--yet we must still think,
speak and work, and trust in the power of a merciful God for final
truly and gratefully yours,
Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D.C., Oct. 25, 1892.
I. THE OFFENSE
evening May 24th, 1892, the city of Memphis was filled with excitement.
Editorials in the daily papers of that date caused a meeting to
be held in the Cotton Exchange Building; a committee was sent
for the editors of the "Free Speech" an Afro-American
journal published in that city, and the only reason the open threats
of lynching that were made were not carried out was because they
could not be found. The cause of all this commotion was the following
editorial published in the "Free Speech" May 21st, 1892,
the Saturday previous.
negroes lynched since last issue of the 'Free Speech' one at Little
Rock, Ark., last Saturday morning where the citizens broke (?)[A]
into the penitentiary and got their man; three near Anniston,
Ala., one near New Orleans; and three at Clarksville, Ga., the
last three for killing a white man, and five on the same old racket—the
new alarm about raping white women. The same programme of hanging,
then shooting bullets into the lifeless bodies was carried out
to the letter.
in this section of the country believes the old thread bare lie
that Negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not
careful, they will over-reach themselves and public sentiment
will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which
will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women."
editorial in question was prompted by the many inhuman and fiendish
lynchings of Afro-Americans which have recently taken place and
was meant as a warning. Eight lynched in one week and five of
them charged with rape! The thinking public will not easily believe
freedom and education more brutalizing than slavery, and the world
knows that the crime of rape was unknown during four years of
civil war, when the white women of the South were at the mercy
of the race, which is all at once charged with being a bestial
my business has been destroyed and I am an exile from home because
of that editorial, the issue has been forced, and as the writer
of it I feel that the race and the public generally should have
a statement of the facts as they exist. They will serve at the
same time as a defense for the Afro-Americans Sampsons who suffer
themselves to be betrayed by white Delilahs….
III. THE NEW CRY
by one the Southern States have legally (?) disfranchised the
Afro-American, and since the repeal of the Civil Rights Bill nearly
every Southern State has passed separate car laws with a penalty
against their infringement. The race regardless of advancement
is penned into filthy, stifling partitions cut off from smoking
cars. All this while, although the political cause has been removed,
the butcheries of black men at Barnwell, S.C., Carrolton, Miss.,
Waycross, Ga., and Memphis, Tenn., have gone on; also the flaying
alive of a man in Kentucky, the burning of one in Arkansas, the
hanging of a fifteen year old girl in Louisiana, a woman in Jackson,
Tenn., and one in Hollendale, Miss., until the dark and bloody
record of the South shows 728 Afro-Americans lynched during the
past 8 years. Not 50 of these were for political causes; the rest
were for all manner of accusations from that of rape of white
women, to the case of the boy Will Lewis who was hanged at Tullahoma,
Tenn., last year for being drunk and "sassy" to white
statistics compiled by the Chicago "Tribune" were given
the first of this year (1892). Since then, not less than one hundred
and fifty have been known to have met violent death at the hands
of cruel bloodthirsty mobs during the past nine months.
palliate this record (which grows worse as the Afro-American becomes
intelligent) and excuse some of the most heinous crimes that ever
stained the history of a country, the South is shielding itself
behind the plausible screen of defending the honor of its women.
This, too, in the face of the fact that only one-third of the
728 victims to mobs have been charged with rape, to say nothing
of those of that one-third who were innocent of the charge. A
white correspondent of the Baltimore Sun declares that the Afro-American
who was lynched in Chestertown, Md., in May for assault on a white
girl was innocent; that the deed was done by a white man who had
since disappeared. The girl herself maintained that her assailant
was a white man. When that poor Afro-American was murdered, the
whites excused their refusal of a trial on the ground that they
wished to spare the white girl the mortification of having to
testify in court.
cry has had its effect. It has closed the heart, stifled the conscience,
warped the judgment and hushed the voice of press and pulpit on
the subject of lynch law throughout this "land of liberty."
Men who stand high in the esteem of the public for christian character,
for moral and physical courage, for devotion to the principles
of equal and exact justice to all, and for great sagacity, stand
as cowards who fear to open their mouths before this great outrage.
They do not see that by their tacit encouragement, their silent
acquiescence, the black shadow of lawlessness in the form of lynch
law is spreading its wings over the whole country.
who, like Governor Tillman, start the ball of lynch law rolling
for a certain crime, are powerless to stop it when drunken or
criminal white toughs feel like hanging an Afro-American on any
to the better class of Afro-Americans the crime of rape is so
revolting they have too often taken the white man's word and given
lynch law neither the investigation nor condemnation it deserved.
forget that a concession of the right to lynch a man for a certain
crime, not only concedes the right to lynch any person for any
crime, but (so frequently is the cry of rape now raised) it is
in a fair way to stamp us a race of rapists and desperadoes. They
have gone on hoping and believing that general education and financial
strength would solve the difficulty, and are devoting their energies
to the accumulation of both….
CHAPTER IV. THE MALICIOUS AND UNTRUTHFUL WHITE PRESS
March 9th, 1882, there were lynched in this same city [Memphis]
three of the best specimens of young since-the-war Afro-American
manhood. They were peaceful, law-abiding citizens and energetic
believed the problem was to be solved by eschewing politics and
putting money in the purse. They owned a flourishing grocery business
in a thickly populated suburb of Memphis, and a white man named
Barrett had one on the opposite corner. After a personal difficulty
which Barrett sought by going into the "People's Grocery"
drawing a pistol and was thrashed by Calvin McDowell, he (Barrett)
threatened to "clean them out." These men were a mile
beyond the city limits and police protection; hearing that Barrett's
crowd was coming to attack them Saturday night, they mustered
forces and prepared to defend themselves against the attack.
Barrett came he led a posse of officers, twelve in number, who
afterward claimed to be hunting a man for whom they had a warrant.
That twelve men in citizen's clothes should think it necessary
to go in the night to hunt one man who had never before been arrested,
or made any record as a criminal has never been explained. When
they entered the back door the young men thought the threatened
attack was on, and fired into them. Three of the officers were
wounded, and when the defending party found it was officers of
the law upon whom they had fired, they ceased and got away.
men were arrested and thrown in jail as "conspirators,"
although they all declared more than once they did not know they
were firing on officers. Excitement was at fever heat until the
morning papers, two days after, announced that the wounded deputy
sheriffs were out of danger. This hindered rather than helped
the plans of the whites. There was no law on the statute books
which would execute an Afro-American for wounding a white man,
but the "unwritten law" did. Three of these men, the
president, the manager and clerk of the grocery--"the leaders
of the conspiracy"--were secretly taken from jail and lynched
in a shockingly brutal manner. "The Negroes are getting too
independent," they say, "we must teach them a lesson."
lesson? The lesson of subordination. "Kill the leaders and
it will cow the Negro who dares to shoot a white man, even in
the race was wild over the outrage, the mockery of law and justice
which alarmed men and locked them up in jails where they could
be easily and safely reached by the mob--the Afro-American ministers,
newspapers and leaders counselled obedience to the law which did
not protect them.
counsel was heeded and not a hand was uplifted to resent the outrage;
following the advice of the "Free Speech," people left
the city in great numbers.
CHAPTER V. THE SOUTH'S POSITION
sentiment has had a slight "reaction" though not sufficient
to stop the crusade of lawlessness and lynching. The spirit of
christianity of the great M. E. Church was aroused to the frequent
and revolting crimes against a weak people, enough to pass strong
and condemnatory resolutions at its General Conference in Omaha
last May. The spirit of justice of the grand old party asserted
itself sufficiently to secure a denunciation of the wrongs, and
a feeble declaration of the belief in human rights in the Republican
platform at Minneapolis, June 7th. Some of the great dailies and
weeklies have swung into line declaring that lynch law must go.
The President of the United States [Benjamin Harrison] issued
a proclamation that it be not tolerated in the territories over
which he has jurisdiction. Governor Northern and Chief Justice
Bleckley of Georgia have proclaimed against it. The citizens of
Chattanooga, Tenn., have set a worthy example in that they not
only condemn lynch law, but her public men demanded a trial for
Weems, the accused rapist, and guarded him while the trial was
in progress. The trial only lasted ten minutes, and Weems chose
to plead guilty and accept twenty-one years sentence, than invite
the certain death which awaited him outside that cordon of police
if he had told the truth and shown the letters he had from the
white woman in the case.
A. S. Colyar, of Nashville, Tenn., is so overcome with the horrible
state of affairs that he addressed the following earnest letter
to the Nashville "American." "Nothing since I have
been a reading man has so impressed me with the decay of manhood
among the people of Tenn[e]ssee as the dastardly submission to
the mob reign. We have reached the unprecedented low level; the
awful criminal depravity of substituting the mob for the court
and jury, of giving up the jail keys to the mob whenever they
are demanded. We do it in the largest cities and in the country
towns; we do it in midday; we do it after full, not to say formal,
notice, and so thoroughly and generally is it acquiesced in that
the murderers have discarded the formula of masks. They go into
the town where everybody knows them, sometimes under the gaze
of the governor, in the presence of the courts, in the presence
of the sheriff and his deputies, in the presence of the entire
police force, take out the prisoner, take his life, often with
fiendish glee, and often with acts of cruelty and barbarism which
impress the reader with a degeneracy rapidly approaching savage
life. That the State is disgraced but faintly expresses the humiliation
which has settled upon the once proud people of Tennessee. The
State, in its majesty, through its organized life, for which the
people pay liberally, makes but one record, but one note, and
that a criminal falsehood, 'was hung by persons to the jury unknown.'
The murder at Shelbyville is only a verification of what every
intelligent man knew would come, because with a mob a rumor is
as good as a proof."
efforts brought forth apologies and a short halt, but the lynching
mania was raged again through the past three months with unabated
strong arm of the law must be brought to bear upon lynchers in
severe punishment, but this cannot and will not be done unless
a healthy public sentiment demands and sustains such action.
men and women in the South who disapprove of lynching and remain
silent on the perpetration of such outrages, are particeps criminis
[Latin for criminal participants], accomplices, accessories before
and after the fact, equally guilty with the actual law-breakers
who would not persist if they did not know that neither the law
nor militia would be employed against them.
CHAPTER VI. SELF HELP
the many inhuman outrages of this present year, the only case
where the proposed lynching did not occur, was where the men armed
themselves in Jacksonville, Fla., and Paducah, Ky., and prevented
it. The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away
has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.
lesson this teaches and which every Afro American should ponder
well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor
in every black home, and it should be used for that protection
which the law refuses to give. When the white man who is always
the aggressor knows he runs as great a risk of biting the dust
every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have greater
respect for Afro-American life. The more the Afro-American yields
and cringes and begs, the more he has to do so, the more he is
insulted, outraged and lynched.