Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases

Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. First published in The New York Age, 25 June 1892. From The Anti Lynching Pamphlets of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1920 by Patricia A. Schechter: “In order to launch resistance to lynching, [Ida B. Wells] 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.”

Excerpts from the story:

…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.

This 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.’… 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….

The 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.

The men and women in the South who disapprove of lynching and remain silent on the perpetration of such outrages, are particeps criminis, 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.

In the creation of this healthier public sentiment, the Afro-American can do for himself what no one else can do for him. The world looks on with wonder that we have conceded so much and remain law-abiding under such great outrage and provocation.