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Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases

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Ida Bell Wells, later Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), was an African American civil rights advocate and an early women's rights advocate active in the Woman Suffrage Movement. Fearless in her opposition to lynchings, Wells documented hundreds of these atrocities. Wells became a public figure in Memphis when, in 1884, she led a campaign against racial segregation on the local ra Ida Bell Wells, later Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), was an African American civil rights advocate and an early women's rights advocate active in the Woman Suffrage Movement. Fearless in her opposition to lynchings, Wells documented hundreds of these atrocities. Wells became a public figure in Memphis when, in 1884, she led a campaign against racial segregation on the local railway. In 1889, she became co-owner and editor of Free Speech, an anti-segregationist newspaper based in Memphis on Beale Street. She also published in 1892 her famous pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases. This pamphlet, along with her 1895 The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, documented her research on and campaign against lynching. In 1892, Wells went to Great Britain at the behest of British Quaker Catherine Impey. An opponent of imperialism and proponent of racial equality, Impey wanted to be sure that the British public was informed about the problem of lynching. After her retirement, Wells wrote her autobiography, Crusade for Justice (1928). Her other works include Mob Rule in New Orleans (1900).


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Ida Bell Wells, later Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), was an African American civil rights advocate and an early women's rights advocate active in the Woman Suffrage Movement. Fearless in her opposition to lynchings, Wells documented hundreds of these atrocities. Wells became a public figure in Memphis when, in 1884, she led a campaign against racial segregation on the local ra Ida Bell Wells, later Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), was an African American civil rights advocate and an early women's rights advocate active in the Woman Suffrage Movement. Fearless in her opposition to lynchings, Wells documented hundreds of these atrocities. Wells became a public figure in Memphis when, in 1884, she led a campaign against racial segregation on the local railway. In 1889, she became co-owner and editor of Free Speech, an anti-segregationist newspaper based in Memphis on Beale Street. She also published in 1892 her famous pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases. This pamphlet, along with her 1895 The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, documented her research on and campaign against lynching. In 1892, Wells went to Great Britain at the behest of British Quaker Catherine Impey. An opponent of imperialism and proponent of racial equality, Impey wanted to be sure that the British public was informed about the problem of lynching. After her retirement, Wells wrote her autobiography, Crusade for Justice (1928). Her other works include Mob Rule in New Orleans (1900).

30 review for Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    Outraged by the execution of her friend Thomas Moss in the “Curve Riot” by a black-masked mob, Ida B. Wells, co-owner and editor of the Memphis negro newspaper The Free Speech and Headlight, began to research the facts that lay behind the lynching of black men in the South. Two and a half months later, in May of 1892, she published, in The Free Speech, an editorial on the subject: Eight negroes lynched since last issue of the Free Speech, one at Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday morning where t Outraged by the execution of her friend Thomas Moss in the “Curve Riot” by a black-masked mob, Ida B. Wells, co-owner and editor of the Memphis negro newspaper The Free Speech and Headlight, began to research the facts that lay behind the lynching of black men in the South. Two and a half months later, in May of 1892, she published, in The Free Speech, an editorial on the subject: Eight negroes lynched since last issue of the Free Speech, one at Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday morning where the citizens broke 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. Nobody 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 overreach 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. Edward Ward Carmack, editor of the Memphis Commercial, questioned whether “a black scoundrel” like the writer of this editorial should be “allowed to live and utter such loathsome and repulsive calumnies. . . There are some things that the Southern white man will not tolerate . . . We hope we have said enough.” The office of The Free Speech was demolished and torched. There was also talk of lynching, but Ida Wells was far away, on vacation in New York. She says she was informed by telegram, however, that “bodily harm awaited my return.” Wells refused to even visit the South for thirty years. She did, however, continue her research, the first fruit of which is this pamphlet, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases. In it, Wells argues that cases in which a black man is charged with rape often suggest a more complex, consensual relationship: it is, in Miss Wells words, a case of “poor blind Afro-American Sampsons who suffer themselves to be betrayed by white Delilahs.” This is a well-argued, well organized pamphlet, and Wells is a meticulous researcher who writes with considerable self-assurance. I will conclude with two excerpts. First, a passage in which Wells, discussing what “Afro-Americans" themselves may do to address the problem, refers to the “Curve Riot” and its aftermath: To Northern capital and Afro-American labor the South owes its rehabilitation. If labor is withdrawn capital will not remain. The Afro-American is thus the backbone of the South. A thorough knowledge and judicious exercise of this power in lynching localities could many times effect a bloodless revolution. The white man's dollar is his god, and to stop this will be to stop outrages in many localities. The Afro-Americans of Memphis denounced the lynching of three of their best citizens, and urged and waited for the authorities to act in the matter and bring the lynchers to justice. No attempt was made to do so, and the black men left the city by thousands, bringing about great stagnation in every branch of business. Those who remained so injured the business of the street car company by staying off the cars, that the superintendent, manager and treasurer called personally on the editor of the Free Speech, asked them to urge our people to give them their patronage again. Other business men became alarmed over the situation and theFree Speech was run away that the colored people might be more easily controlled. A meeting of white citizens in June, three months after the lynching, passed resolutions for the first time, condemning it. . . Memphis is fast losing her black population, who proclaim as they go that there is no protection for the life and property of any Afro-American citizen in Memphis who is not a slave. The appeal to the white man's pocket has ever been more effectual than all the appeals ever made to his conscience. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is to be gained by a further sacrifice of manhood and self-respect. By the right exercise of his power as the industrial factor of the South, the Afro-American can demand and secure his rights, the punishment of lynchers, and a fair trial for accused rapists. I conclude with another equally interesting passage on the subject of self-defense: Of 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. The 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 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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

    Written as a declaration/statement research paper, this was a glimpse into the trivialized injustices that were put on full display towards Black people in the South in the late 1800's. 2 quotes from it: "The appeal to the white man's pocket has ever been more effectual than all the appeals ever made to his conscience." "Her (The South's) white citizens are wedded to any method however revolting, any measure however extreme, for the subjugation of the young manhood of the race. They have cheated h Written as a declaration/statement research paper, this was a glimpse into the trivialized injustices that were put on full display towards Black people in the South in the late 1800's. 2 quotes from it: "The appeal to the white man's pocket has ever been more effectual than all the appeals ever made to his conscience." "Her (The South's) white citizens are wedded to any method however revolting, any measure however extreme, for the subjugation of the young manhood of the race. They have cheated him out of his ballot, deprived him of civil rights or redress therefor in the civil courts, robbed him of the fruits of his labor, and are still murdering, burning and lynching him." Throughout reading this, I couldn't stop thinking about the current depraved state the United States is in and how you could take these words of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and plug them into the monumental problems the South and all of the United States still face to this day. A very quick, must read. What a privilege it would have been to listen to her speak.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

    A powerful and well researched indictment on the reasons why Black men were lynched in the 1800s in America. It was not because Black men were raping white women but because Black people were trying to get ahead economically/socially in their lives. Good use of excerpts of newspapers. It was hard to read the racist editorials. The author also does a good job in showing examples of when Black men and white women who were in consensual relations, but when the relationship was found out by white pe A powerful and well researched indictment on the reasons why Black men were lynched in the 1800s in America. It was not because Black men were raping white women but because Black people were trying to get ahead economically/socially in their lives. Good use of excerpts of newspapers. It was hard to read the racist editorials. The author also does a good job in showing examples of when Black men and white women who were in consensual relations, but when the relationship was found out by white people, the white woman cried rape. Ultimately a short read you can get done in over an hour. I will definitely read more of Ida's works and learn more about her life.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pink

    Really short, really good, really worth a read. Even if you don't think you're interested in the subject matter. You should be. Really short, really good, really worth a read. Even if you don't think you're interested in the subject matter. You should be.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cherisa B

    To read a litany of several lynching circumstances in the late 19th century is to be horrified and mortified that an anti-lynching law wasn’t enacted by the United States until 2020. Shameful and inexcusable, it can only be explained with ugly terms such as racism, terrorism, hypocrisy, hatred, sadism, even sexism. Ida Wells was holding up a mirror to America that reflected all the ways the justice system and society failed to protect its black citizens. A lot of what she documented still exists To read a litany of several lynching circumstances in the late 19th century is to be horrified and mortified that an anti-lynching law wasn’t enacted by the United States until 2020. Shameful and inexcusable, it can only be explained with ugly terms such as racism, terrorism, hypocrisy, hatred, sadism, even sexism. Ida Wells was holding up a mirror to America that reflected all the ways the justice system and society failed to protect its black citizens. A lot of what she documented still exists today. And that’s the worst part of reading her record, knowing how far we haven’t come from such awfulness.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    It was difficult to read through this book. I found that it took me several tries, having to stop and start over time and time again due to the outlandish nature of the crimes against the men and women identified. This glimpse into history is graphic in that readers are easily able to recognize shortcomings in the laws and in the thinking patterns of many people at the time period spoken of.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marisa Jeanne

    Cw: overt violent racism, antiBlack violence (mentions) . . . . . . . . . . This pamphlet is a must read for my fellow white people. It details the horrors of the South’s Lynch mobs and their brutality against the regions Black inhabitants in the form of case studies and examinations of motives for these heinous crimes. Wells examines the prevailing attitudes toward Black Americans and the way that white Southerners enacted terror toward their Black contemporaries Wells also lists the ways in which Black pe Cw: overt violent racism, antiBlack violence (mentions) . . . . . . . . . . This pamphlet is a must read for my fellow white people. It details the horrors of the South’s Lynch mobs and their brutality against the regions Black inhabitants in the form of case studies and examinations of motives for these heinous crimes. Wells examines the prevailing attitudes toward Black Americans and the way that white Southerners enacted terror toward their Black contemporaries Wells also lists the ways in which Black people can fight back, one of the most prominent being boycott of industries that treat Black people as subhuman. This pamphlet is important. We need to know our history and we need to not be complacent in hiding the past

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christian Büttner

    This makes for a fascinating read. If you can't stomach occasionally graphic descriptions of violent crimes, maybe don't read this. Its a short 50ish page pamphlet printed originally in 1892. Its a discussion of lynchings and what contributed to them towards the end of the 19th century. It lays bare the horrid racist narratives of the time, including the false narrative of black males raping white women, something quoted in Dillan Cross's manifesto. While this is an old pamphlet much of what wen This makes for a fascinating read. If you can't stomach occasionally graphic descriptions of violent crimes, maybe don't read this. Its a short 50ish page pamphlet printed originally in 1892. Its a discussion of lynchings and what contributed to them towards the end of the 19th century. It lays bare the horrid racist narratives of the time, including the false narrative of black males raping white women, something quoted in Dillan Cross's manifesto. While this is an old pamphlet much of what went on back then in terms of narrative, press spin, still seems pertinent and speaks to the mentalities and attitudes we see today. Read this, see how it relates to today. Learn something.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This is my first time reading Ida B. Wells, and while I knew of her brilliance before, it was still great to see firsthand. Southern Horrors is incredibly interesting and useful when looked at as history, especially with prime examples of the horrors of lynch law featured within. I can also see why it would have been so effective in its day, particularly given her ideas for moving forward from lynch law. Definitely recommended for any one looking for an interesting and important piece of history. This is my first time reading Ida B. Wells, and while I knew of her brilliance before, it was still great to see firsthand. Southern Horrors is incredibly interesting and useful when looked at as history, especially with prime examples of the horrors of lynch law featured within. I can also see why it would have been so effective in its day, particularly given her ideas for moving forward from lynch law. Definitely recommended for any one looking for an interesting and important piece of history. It is more than worth the short time it takes to get through.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    READ THIS. Written in 1892 and absolutely nothing has changed. Racists will racist. One of the stories in particular reminds me of "To Kill a Mockingbird". It's a powerful, quick and enlightening read. READ THIS. Written in 1892 and absolutely nothing has changed. Racists will racist. One of the stories in particular reminds me of "To Kill a Mockingbird". It's a powerful, quick and enlightening read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    The excerpts from the white-owned newspapers really creeped me out, because of how similar they sound to the modern alt-right and other grievance-culture internet racists. Highlighted passages: (view spoiler)[Wednesday evening May 24, 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 excerpts from the white-owned newspapers really creeped me out, because of how similar they sound to the modern alt-right and other grievance-culture internet racists. Highlighted passages: (view spoiler)[Wednesday evening May 24, 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 21, 1892, the Saturday previous. Eight negroes lynched since last issue of the Free Speech one at Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday morning where the citizens broke(?) 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. Nobody 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 overreach 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. (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[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. To Northern capital and Afro-American labor the South owes its rehabilitation. If labor is withdrawn capital will not remain. The Afro-American is thus the backbone of the South. A thorough knowledge and judicious exercise of this power in lynching localities could many times effect a bloodless revolution. The white man's dollar is his god, and to stop this will be to stop outrages in many localities. (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[The appeal to the white man's pocket has ever been more effectual than all the appeals ever made to his conscience. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is to be gained by a further sacrifice of manhood and self-respect. By the right exercise of his power as the industrial factor of the South, the Afro-American can demand and secure his rights, the punishment of lynchers, and a fair trial for accused rapists. (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[Of 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. The 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 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. (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[The assertion has been substantiated throughout these pages that the press contains unreliable and doctored reports of lynchings, and one of the most necessary things for the race to do is to get these facts before the public. The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press. The Afro-American papers are the only ones which will print the truth, and they lack means to employ agents and detectives to get at the facts. The race must rally a mighty host to the support of their journals, and thus enable them to do much in the way of investigation. (hide spoiler)]

  12. 4 out of 5

    Pelikay

    Savages This was an easy read with frightening imagery. This is the real picture of lynching. I don't know how those African Americans stayed in those same towns when the leaders could be murdered on lies. Savages This was an easy read with frightening imagery. This is the real picture of lynching. I don't know how those African Americans stayed in those same towns when the leaders could be murdered on lies.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Lou

    3.5 Stars

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lark Benobi

    Interesting on so many levels, it is a cry of outrage against Southern lynch culture, it is an example of early editorial journalism, and it is a scathing critique of media representations of black and white, in an era when Southern newspapers regularly wrote of white "gentleman" and "Negro scoundrels." Wells brings into sharp relief the extreme and ever present danger of being a black man in America, not only in the South. This work is interesting in an entirely different way for its lack of na Interesting on so many levels, it is a cry of outrage against Southern lynch culture, it is an example of early editorial journalism, and it is a scathing critique of media representations of black and white, in an era when Southern newspapers regularly wrote of white "gentleman" and "Negro scoundrels." Wells brings into sharp relief the extreme and ever present danger of being a black man in America, not only in the South. This work is interesting in an entirely different way for its lack of names and dates and place names throughout the litany of lynching stories Wells presents here. I'm not sure if this vagueness is out of kindness to victims and their families, in the way newspapers today don't name minors involved in crimes, or whether the lack of verifiable detail in Wells's writing about lynch culture is simply a representation of how young the craft of journalism was in her era.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Max Ritter

    Don't let the three stars deceive you, this writing is incredible. Ida Wells was one of the greatest writers in the Reconstruction Period, end of discussion. But her descriptions of growing up in slavery, being freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and continuing to see awful racist hatred... it's difficult to get through. It was legitimately emotionally painful. My ratings tend to be based upon my experience reading the book, so I have to put it at 3/5 because it was a good read but also I do Don't let the three stars deceive you, this writing is incredible. Ida Wells was one of the greatest writers in the Reconstruction Period, end of discussion. But her descriptions of growing up in slavery, being freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and continuing to see awful racist hatred... it's difficult to get through. It was legitimately emotionally painful. My ratings tend to be based upon my experience reading the book, so I have to put it at 3/5 because it was a good read but also I don't know if I can ever recommend it to somebody. That being said, I suppose if you're looking to study politics or history, you have to read things like this. You can't understand the United States without pulling away the frills and leaving bare the horrors we've committed against our own people. To distance ourselves from it is dangerous, and that's why this book is as important as it is heart-wrenching.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Mccool

    This pamphlet is a scathing review of the silence of the press on urgent matters of civil rights and murderous prejudice. It tells the stories of several innocent (or presumably innocent) African American men, women, boys and girls who were brutalized, raped, hung, shot, or all of the above as scapegoats for the true criminals who were generally white. The author also details several instances in which black men were lynched or imprisoned without trial or even plausible attestation of their guil This pamphlet is a scathing review of the silence of the press on urgent matters of civil rights and murderous prejudice. It tells the stories of several innocent (or presumably innocent) African American men, women, boys and girls who were brutalized, raped, hung, shot, or all of the above as scapegoats for the true criminals who were generally white. The author also details several instances in which black men were lynched or imprisoned without trial or even plausible attestation of their guilt, often by conscience-stricken white women who had consensual elicit affairs with the accused (Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' contains an excellent example of this practice). Frederick Douglass provides a heartfelt forward.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chaston Pfingston

    Reading this pamphlet left me baffled. It is incomprehensible to me how so many Americans actually believed (and still do believe) in the lie of white-supremacy and found themselves justified in the murder of their fellow citizens and human beings! Hate is senseless, and senseless acts of violence are some of the most difficult to cope with.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    "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." "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."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    Infuriating and terrifying, yet I'm glad to know that there were people like Ida B. Wells fighting to write and publish texts like these. It's very descriptive, and it's frightening to see that some of these hateful sentiments don't seem to have changed much in 100+ years. Infuriating and terrifying, yet I'm glad to know that there were people like Ida B. Wells fighting to write and publish texts like these. It's very descriptive, and it's frightening to see that some of these hateful sentiments don't seem to have changed much in 100+ years.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    This is a very short book, pamphlet size written by Ida B. Wells. The office of her paper of which she was the publisher, editor, and reporter of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight was attacked by a mob that destroyed her equipment and burn the office to the ground. Her life was endangered by her reports of the lynchings during her time. Fortunately, she had fled to Chicago in time. The details that she reports are extremely painful and gut- wrenching to read. But I believe that everyone, Bla This is a very short book, pamphlet size written by Ida B. Wells. The office of her paper of which she was the publisher, editor, and reporter of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight was attacked by a mob that destroyed her equipment and burn the office to the ground. Her life was endangered by her reports of the lynchings during her time. Fortunately, she had fled to Chicago in time. The details that she reports are extremely painful and gut- wrenching to read. But I believe that everyone, Black and White must read about what happened. Often the precipitating event was something major or minor that went on between a white woman and black man. Emmett Till's death could have easily fit into this book. All of this is part of the idea of white supremacy and to understand and destroy the existence, this and other books must be read. I bought this book for myself and plan on reading her autobiography on a later date. This book needs to he considered an important and sorrowful document of our history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Miles Smith

    Wells' devastating indictment of lynching in the Gilded Age argued that southern Blacks should protest and emigrate; her influence was marked. The Great Migration reoriented urban life in the North and crippled the economies of some southern states. Wells' devastating indictment of lynching in the Gilded Age argued that southern Blacks should protest and emigrate; her influence was marked. The Great Migration reoriented urban life in the North and crippled the economies of some southern states.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    Informative, frightening, and exhausting what the Democrat Party was still doing decades after the murder of Lincoln for abolishing slavery and starting the Republican Party in order to do so. History speaks loudly when you listen.

  23. 4 out of 5

    JC

    Frederick Douglass wrote in the introduction to this short tract: “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.” James Cone is the theologian most well known for connecting the cross of Roman imperialism to the lynching Frederick Douglass wrote in the introduction to this short tract: “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.” James Cone is the theologian most well known for connecting the cross of Roman imperialism to the lynching tree of white supremacist America. He opens his book called “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by quoting Acts 10:39: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Cone goes onto say: “The paradox of a crucified savior lies at the heart of the Christian story. That paradox was particularly evident in the first century when crucifixion was recognized as the particular form of execution reserved by the Roman Empire for insurrectionists and rebels… Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross… There was no place for the proud and the mighty, for people who think that God called them to rule over others. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.” Cone’s theology highlighting God’s explicit identification with victims of brutal violence through Christ dying on the cross was revelatory for me. It transformed my theology in very serious ways, and it is the primary lens through which I think about atonement today. To see Jesus on the cross as something deeply related to the brutal lynchings of people of colour in America. In “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”, Cone writes of the admiration Wells found in Du Bois and Douglass: “Reflecting back on Wells’s life and work, Du Bois correctly called her “the pioneer of the anti-lynching crusade,” who “began the awakening of the conscience of the nation.” Frederick Douglass, whom Wells called “Old Man Eloquent,” acknowledged her leadership in a letter of 1892 about her “paper on the lynch abomination.” In introducing Wells, Cone highlights her reputation for militancy: …“Born a slave in Mississippi in 1862, Wells achieved a national reputation for militancy when she successfully sued a railroad company after a conductor forcibly evicted her from a train for refusing to give up her first-class seat to a white man. (The company won on appeal with the state Supreme Court.)” An example of Wells’ militancy is her call to arms in this tract that one could say anticipated the Black Panther call to arm oneself for self-defence: “Of 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. The 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 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.” This call to arms is very similar to the ones Albert and Lucy Parsons made around the same time This is an excerpt from Jacqueline Jones’ “Goddess of Anarchy” describing Albert Parsons’ call: “Standing on a salt barrel, Albert took the lead in exhorting the crowd (which, according to a reporter, included 1,000 men and 6 women), and declared, “A new board of thieves is to be opened to-night. It is time this thing is stopped. These robbers fatten off our toil.” He advised his listeners to “buy a Colt’s navy revolver, a Winchester rifle, and ten pounds of dynamite, and learn how to make and use dynamite.” And Lucy Parsons also later got into the habit, to cary on her husband’s legacy of militancy: “Captain Michael Schaak, taking note of Parsons’s persistent calls for workers to “buy yourselves good Winchester rifles,” observed that her appeals to violence had “made herself obnoxious to the more peaceable and conservative Socialists.”)” Jacqueline Jones, in her biography of Lucy Parsons, draws parallels between Parsons and Wells, writing: “Wells-Barnett resembled Parsons in certain striking respects. Born a slave, she, too, attained only a basic common education but proved to be a gifted writer, newspaper editor, and speaker who was sought after by sympathetic audiences in the United States and Europe. She urged black households to keep loaded rifles in their homes and to use them if necessary. Observers contrasted her ladylike demeanor with her bold forays into taboo subjects, such as sadistic torture and the political use of threats or false claims of sexual relations between black men and white women. However, even some who admired her courage considered her writings and lectures to be reckless and self-defeating, and certain to offend potential supporters. She and Parsons both opposed the United States’ new imperialist ventures in the 1890s, with Wells-Barnett making explicit links between the oppression of blacks at home and the exploitation of dark-skinned peoples abroad. Yet it is doubtful that Parsons and Wells-Barnett ever met, and neither referred to the other in her writings.” Yet Wells was not an anarchist, and has some interesting remarks on government that actually resemble Engels or Lenin to some extent: “The South resented giving the Afro-American his freedom, the ballot box and the Civil Rights Law. The raids of the Ku-Klux and White Liners to subvert reconstruction government, the Hamburg and Ellerton, S.C., the Copiah County, Miss., and the Layfayette Parish, La., massacres were excused as the natural resentment of intelligence against government by ignorance. Honest white men practically conceded the necessity of intelligence murdering ignorance to correct the mistake of the general government, and the race was left to the tender mercies of the solid South. Thoughtful Afro-Americans with the strong arm of the government withdrawn and with the hope to stop such wholesale massacres urged the race to sacrifice its political rights for sake of peace.” Lenin commenting on Engels writes: "And from it follows that the “special coercive force” for the suppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, of millions of working people by handfuls of the rich, must be replaced by a “special coercive force” for the suppression of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat (the dictatorship of the proletariat).” For Lenin and Engels, this is the distinction between the wholesale abolition of the state of the anarchists, and the communist tactic of seizing the ‘strong arm of the government’ (as Wells puts it) for the interests of the oppressed, until oppression in its most salient forms is eradicated and some semblance of classless society is established. To what extent a classless society is possible is an article of faith, however, as is the idea that the state really will ‘wither away’ once people ‘representative of the masses’ gain power. My politics are more libertarian than authoritarian, so I have strong reservations about ‘really existing’ Leninism, but I do think that a lot of libertarian leftists are not practical enough and don't quite escape the domain of florid rhetoric. Anyway, to return to Wells, this is James Cone again elaborating on her militancy: “No one was more militant than Ida B. Wells. “Our country’s national crime is lynching,” she began her essay “Lynch Law in America.” “It is not the creature of the hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an ‘unwritten law’ that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal.” It is this total lack of due process which is the backdrop to Wells’ critique of using ‘rape’ (often completely unproven) as a justification for lynching. Wells writes: “Even 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. They 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.” I myself find it difficult not to side with victims in sexual violence ‘allegations’. Yet the way rape culture intersects with race is important, and Cone describes Wells as struggling with this tension initially: “Wells herself regarded rape as an “unspeakable outrage,” and this initially inhibited her from speaking out forcefully against lynching. Yet the Memphis lynching had nothing to do with rape. What caused it was envy of black economic success. Whites tolerated no competition from blacks in anything, not even in sports such as baseball and horse racing, but especially in politics and economics.” “The Memphis lynching caused Wells to question the rape claim as the main reason for lynching. In her research, Wells discovered that rape was given as the reason in only about one-third of lynchings. In many of these cases, the claims referred to consensual sexual acts, while in others, the claims were often false.” I think Cone is right to emphasize that the issue was not rape. People like Paul Bloom have opportunistically used the work of Wells here to advocate a case against empathy and as a critique of feminist discourses on ‘rape culture’. Angela Davis wrote a fantastic chapter called “Rape, Racism, and the Myth of the Black Rapist” that has helped me sort through a lot of this stuff. It’s remarkable the extent to which lynching was sidelined as an issue at the time. Even Lucy Parsons (according to Jacquline Jones’ biography) only made a single passing reference to the problem of lynching in an issue of Freedom. According to Jones’, this neglect of racial oppression was “in keeping with the attitudes of those radicals in whose circles she moved.” In Nella Larson’s novel “Passing”, lynching becomes a point of tension between the protagonist and her husband, who wants their child to understand the realities of lynching that exist out there. It is from this context of hush timidity that Wells’ bold anti-lynching agitation radiates, and Cone makes quite interesting remarks that connect this fearless militancy with her faith: “What was it that gave Wells the courage to risk her life for others she did not even know? What gave her the audacity to proclaim the truth in an era when women were not even expected to speak in public? The answer is found in her faith, inherited from her ex-slave parents and the African American church community. It was a faith defined by the cross and the black cultural resistance to white supremacy. Wells’s trust in God sustained her when her anti-lynching activity was dangerous and when many blacks shunned her. She did not claim credit for her work but gave it all to God. “No other save Divine Strength,” she wrote to Frederick Douglass, “could have helped me so wonderfully and to God I give all the praise and glory.” When the ministers of the A.M.E. Church refused to support her work at one of their conferences in Philadelphia, she was not fazed. “Under God I have done work without any assistance from my people,” she told them as she exited the meeting… For Wells, faith in the God of Calvary was not an excuse for passivity. She rebuked those who patiently waited on God to save them from injustice…” Cone also reflects on Wells' struggles with God and other Christians is quite a fascinating one: ““The heart almost loses faith in Christianity,” [Wells] wrote, “when one thinks of . . . the countless massacres of defenseless Negroes, whose only crime was the attempt to exercise their right to vote.” “O God, when will these massacres stop?” Faith and doubt were bound together, with each a check against the other—doubt preventing faith from being too sure of itself and faith keeping doubt from going down into the pit of despair. With faith in one hand and doubt in the other she contended against the evil of lynching. Like most blacks of her time, Wells dismissed white Christianity as hypocrisy. “Why is mob murder permitted by a Christian nation?” she asked. White Christianity was not genuine because it either openly supported slavery, segregation, and lynching as the will of God or it was silent about these evils. “The nation cannot profess Christianity,” Wells said in an essay, “which makes the golden rule its foundation stone, and continue to deny equal opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the black race.” She therefore challenged white liberal Christians to speak out against lynching or be condemned by their silence. “During all the years . . . in which men, women, and children were being scourged, hanged, shot and burned,” Wells said of Frances Willard and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, “the WCTU had no word, either pity or protest; its great heart, which concerns itself about humanity the world over, was, toward our cause, pulseless as a stone.” She could have said the same thing about Reinhold Niebuhr, his brother H. Richard, Social Gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch, and the rest of white theologians and ministers during that time. All of them were silent, as if the meaning of the Christian gospel for America had nothing to do with segregation and lynching. Wells was especially critical of evangelist Dwight Moody, who segregated his revivals to appease whites in the South. “Our American Christians are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in hellfire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians.” “Christianity is to be the test,” Wells claimed, that whites failed miserably in their treatment of blacks. She was “prouder to belong to the dark race that is the most practically Christian known to history, than to the white race that in its dealings with us has for centuries shown every quality that is savage, treacherous, and unchristian.”” Amen.

  24. 5 out of 5

    K

    This is a deeply important book. I listened to the free LibraVox audio. Two criticisms I have of this audio is it would have been more authentic to hear it read in an African-American female's voice. It seemed inappropriate to hear the book spoken by a white woman. Secondly, it didn't say if what I heard was abridged, or the whole publication. What Ida B. Wells-Barnett teaches the listener or reader in less than one hour is why so many black people got lynched and why segregation took hold in the This is a deeply important book. I listened to the free LibraVox audio. Two criticisms I have of this audio is it would have been more authentic to hear it read in an African-American female's voice. It seemed inappropriate to hear the book spoken by a white woman. Secondly, it didn't say if what I heard was abridged, or the whole publication. What Ida B. Wells-Barnett teaches the listener or reader in less than one hour is why so many black people got lynched and why segregation took hold in the post-Civil War era. White women, she was looking at you. The impression left after listening to the book is 1) Ida B. Wells-Barnett is a complete and total badass and deserves all the fame we can bring her. 2) Segregation did not work. It's time to find ways to end it as quickly as possible. This misguided idea did not work as intended and keeps people down. Our nation would be stronger if everyone was able to achieve to their level without false barriers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Star ratings are tough for books like this. It's not an enjoyable read, but is an important one. It's a good overview illustrating the pernicious and resilient hate of white men towards Afro-Americans (to use Barnett's parlance) and the shockingly common use of vigilante executions and lynchings to trod upon minorities and keep them powerless in fear. The contrast between the white newspapers and African American newspapers is horrifyingly stark, and this book focuses on how even an unpopular ed Star ratings are tough for books like this. It's not an enjoyable read, but is an important one. It's a good overview illustrating the pernicious and resilient hate of white men towards Afro-Americans (to use Barnett's parlance) and the shockingly common use of vigilante executions and lynchings to trod upon minorities and keep them powerless in fear. The contrast between the white newspapers and African American newspapers is horrifyingly stark, and this book focuses on how even an unpopular editorial would be used as "justification" for inciting honky mobs. This title has been referred to in many of the news articles concerning the racial terrorism in Charleston, South Carolina at the Emanuel AME Church. Available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14975

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tali

    A concise, brutally honest narrative that sheds light on the horrific history of lynchings in the late 19th century. Ida B. Wells documents in detail various examples of the crimes that took place during this time and explains ideological, economic, and political reasoning for the violence. I will forever be grateful for Ida B. Wells' exceptional investigative reporting and activism during this time of silence and apathy. It's a difficult read and very graphic, but I recommend it if you want to A concise, brutally honest narrative that sheds light on the horrific history of lynchings in the late 19th century. Ida B. Wells documents in detail various examples of the crimes that took place during this time and explains ideological, economic, and political reasoning for the violence. I will forever be grateful for Ida B. Wells' exceptional investigative reporting and activism during this time of silence and apathy. It's a difficult read and very graphic, but I recommend it if you want to truly understand the horrors of African-American life during this period. Also a great read for black history month.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sabura

    Needs to be read by Whites and Blacks! Really by all people. Stop telling Black people to get over it. I've heard of this sister however? I do not recall her writings introduced while I was in school. Needs to be read by Whites and Blacks! Really by all people. Stop telling Black people to get over it. I've heard of this sister however? I do not recall her writings introduced while I was in school.

  28. 4 out of 5

    JoAnn

    Interesting and frightening historical record of the laws permitting the murder of black people.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Smith Atkins

    This is interesting but there are pictures and it is kind of horrifying.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jenna Wolf

    A must read. Ida B. Wells is a master story teller, reporter, and essayist. Know the history--read this book.

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