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Prepare to analyze Ida B. Well’s anti-lynching campaign by reading “A Red Record,” relevant portions of the text, and any outside sources you may wish to consult. What tactics did Wells use? Identify the approaches you feel would have been the most effective and those you feel would have generated the most concern among white audiences who read her editorials or heard her speeches.

Chapter 14: White Supremacy Triumphant: African Americans in the South in the Late Nineteenth Century

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14–3 Ida B. Wells, A Red Record, 1895

The daughter of slaves, Ida B. Wells began her career as a teacher and journalist in Memphis. During the 1890s, she began speaking out and writing about the taboo subject of lynching. Wells was convinced that lynching formed a critical part of the system of racial oppression in the South, often as tool against successful black businesses. She challenged the myth of black men raping white women, and argued that this myth masked the deeper historical reality of the systematic rape of black women by white men. Wells’s carefully researched anti-lynching crusade drew international attention to the issue. She was also active in the black club women movement, woman suffrage, and was a founding member of the NAACP in 1909.

SOURCE: Ida B. Wells, A Red Record

(1895).

Not all or nearly all of the murders done by white men, during the past thirty years in the South, have come to light, but the statistics as gathered and preserved by white men, and which have not been questioned, show that during these years more than ten thousand Negroes have been killed in cold blood, without the formality of judicial trial and legal execution. And yet, as evidence of the absolute impunity with which the white man dares to kill a Negro, the same record shows that during all these years, and for all these murders only three white men have been tried, convicted, and executed. As no white man has been lynched for the murder of colored people, these three executions are the only instances of the death penalty being visited upon white men for murdering Negroes. Naturally enough the commission of these crimes began to tell upon the public conscience, and the Southern white man, as a tribute to the nineteenth century civilization, was in a manner compelled to give excuses for his barbarism. His excuses have adapted themselves to the emergency, and are aptly outlined by that greatest of all Negroes, Frederick Douglass, in a article of recent date, in which he shows that there have been three distinct eras of Southern barbarism, to account for which three distinct excuses have been made. The first excuse given to the civilized world for the murder of unoffending Negroes was the necessity of the white man to repress and stamp out alleged “race riots.” For years immediately succeeding the war there was an appalling slaughter of colored people, and the wires usually conveyed to northern people and the world the intelligence, first, that an insurrection was being planned by Negroes, which, a few hours later, would prove to have been vigorously resisted by white men, and controlled with a resulting loss of several killed and wounded. It was always a remarkable feature in these insurrections and riots that only Negroes were killed during the rioting, and that all the white men escaped unharmed. From 1865 to 1872, hundreds of colored men and women were mercilessly murdered and the almost invariable reason assigned was that they met their death by being alleged participants in an insurrection or riot. But this story at last wore itself out. No insurrection ever materialized; no Negro rioter was ever apprehended and proven guilty, and no dynamite ever recorded the black man’s protest against oppression and wrong .… Then came the second excuse, which had its birth during the turbulent times of reconstruction. By an amendment to the Constitution the Negro was given the right of franchise, and, theoretically at least, his ballot became his invaluable emblem of citizenship.…The southern white man would not consider that the Negro had any right which a white man was bound to respect, and the idea of a republican form of government in the southern states grew into general contempt. It was maintained that “This is a white man’s government,” and regardless of numbers white men should rule. “No Negro domination” became the new legend on the sanguinary banner of the sunny South, and under it rode the Ku Klux Klan, the Regulators, and the lawless mobs, which for any cause chose to murder one man or a dozen as suited their purpose best. It was a long, gory campaign.… The government which had made the Negro a citizen found itself unable to protect him. It gave him the right to vote, but denied him the protection which should have maintained that right. Scourged from his home; hunted through the swamps; hung by midnight raiders, and openly murdered in the light of day, the Negro clung to his right of franchise with a heroism which would have wrung admiration from the hearts of savages. He believed that in the small white ballot there was a subtle something which stood for manhood as well as citizenship, and thousands of brave black men went to their graves, exemplifying the one by dying for the other. The white man’s victory soon became complete by fraud, violence, intimidation and murder. The franchise vouchsafed to the Negro grew to be a “barren ideality,” and regardless of numbers, the colored people found themselves voiceless in the councils of those whose duty it was to rule.…With the Southern governments all subverted and the Negro actually eliminated from all participation in state and national elections, there could be no longer an excuse for killing Negroes to prevent “Negro Domination.”

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Chapter 14: White Supremacy Triumphant: African Americans in the South in the Late Nineteenth Century

Brutality still continued, Negroes were whipped, scourged, exiled, shot and hung whenever and wherever it pleased the white man so to treat them, and as the civilized world with increasing persistency held the white people of the South to account for its outlawry, the murderers invented the third excuse—that Negroes had to he killed to avenge their assaults upon women.… Humanity abhors the assailant of womanhood, and this charge upon the Negro at once placed him beyond the pale of human sympathy.… If the Southern people in defense of their lawlessness, would tell the truth and admit that colored men and women are lynched for almost any offense, from murder to a misdemeanor, there would not now be the necessity for this defense. But when they intentionally, maliciously and constantly belie the record and bolster up these falsehoods by the words of legislators, preachers, governors and bishops, then the Negro must give to the world his side of the awful story. A word as to the charge itself. In considering the third reason assigned by the Southern white people for the butchery of blacks, the question must be asked, what the white man means when he charges the black man with rape. Does he mean the crime which the statutes of the states describe as such? Not by any means. With the Southern white man, any misalliance existing between a white woman and a colored man is a sufficient foundation for the charge of rape. The Southern white man says that it is impossible for a voluntary alliance to exist between a white woman and a colored man, and therefore, the fact of an alliance is a proof of force. In numerous instances where colored men have been lynched on the charge of rape, it was positively known at the time of lynching, and indisputably proven after the victim’s death, that the relationship sustained between the man and the woman was voluntary and clandestine, and that in no court of law could even the charge of assault have been successfully maintained. It was for the assertion of this fact, in the defense of her own race, that the writer hereof became an exile; her property destroyed and her return to her home forbidden under penalty of death, for writing the following editorial which was printed in her paper, the Free Speech, in Memphis, Tenn., May 21, 1892: “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 program 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 threadbare 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 he reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.” But threats cannot suppress the truth, and while the Negro suffers the soul deformity, resultant from two and a half centuries of slavery, he is no more guilty of this vilest of all vile charges than the white man who would blacken his name. During all the years of slavery, no such charge was ever made, not even during the dark days of the rebellion…. While the master was away fighting to forge the fetters upon the slave, he left his wife and children with no protectors save the Negroes themselves.… Likewise during the period of alleged “insurrection,” and alarming “race riots,” it never occurred to the white man, that his wife and children were in danger of assault. Nor in the Reconstruction era, when the hue and cry was against “Negro Domination,” was there ever a thought that the domination would ever contaminate a fireside or strike to death the virtue of womanhood.… It is not the purpose of this defense to say one word against the white women of the South. Such need not be said, but it is their misfortune that the…white men of that section…to justify their own barbarism…assume a chivalry which they do not possess. True chivalry respects all womanhood, and no one who reads the record, as it is written in the faces of the million mulattos in the South, will for a minute conceive that the southern white man had a very chivalrous regard for the honor due the women of his race or respect for the womanhood which circumstances placed in his power…. Virtue knows no color line, and the chivalry which depends upon complexion of skin and texture of hair can command no honest respect. When emancipation came to the Negroes…from every nook and corner of the North, brave young white women…left their cultured homes, their happy associations and their lives of ease, and with heroic determination went to the South to carry light and truth to the benighted blacks…. They became social outlaws in the South. The peculiar sensitiveness of the southern white men for women, never shed its protecting influence about them. No friendly word from their own race cheered them in their work; no hospitable doors gave them the companionship like that from which they had come. No chivalrous white man doffed his hat in honor or respect. They were “Nigger teachers”—unpardonable offenders in the social ethics of the South, and were insulted, persecuted and ostracized, not by Negroes, but by the white manhood which boasts of its chivalry toward women. And yet these northern women worked on, year after year.…Threading their way through dense forests, working in schoolhouse, in the cabin and in the church, thrown at all times and in all places among the unfortunate and lowly Negroes, whom they had come to find and to serve, these northern women, thousands and thousands of them, have spent

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Chapter 14: White Supremacy Triumphant: African Americans in the South in the Late Nineteenth Century

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