Lynching And Women: Ida B. Wells

1007 words - 4 pages

Lynching and Women: Ida B. Wells

Emancipated blacks, after the Civil War, continued to live in fear of lynching, a practice of vigilantism that was often based on false accusations. Lynching was not only a way for southern white men to exert racist “justice,” it was also a means of keeping women, white and black, under the control of a violent white male ideology. In response to the injustices of lynching, the anti-lynching movement was established—a campaign in which women played a key role. Ida B. Wells, a black teacher and journalist was at the forefront and early development of this movement. In 1892 Wells was one of the first news reporters to bring the truths of lynching to proper media attention. Her first articles appeared in The Free Speech and Headlight, a Memphis newspaper that she co-edited. She urged the black townspeople of Memphis to move west and to resist the coercive violence of lynching. [1] Her early articles were collected in Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, a widely distributed pamphlet that exposed the innocence of many victims of lynching and attacked the leaders of white southern communities for allowing such atrocities. [2] In 1895 Wells published a larger investigative report, A Red Record, which exposed how false or contrived accusations of rape accompanied less than one third of the cases documented around 1892. [3] The statistics and literature of A Red Record denounced the dominant white male ideology behind lynching – the thought that white womanhood was in need of protection against black men. Wells challenged this notion as a concealed racist agenda that functioned to keep white men in power over blacks as well as white women. Jacqueline Jones Royster documents the stereotypes of this popular white belief in an analysis of Wells’ reports. She writes:

White women were pure, virginal, and uninterested in sexual pleasure. They needed and deserved protection. African American women were wanton, licentious, promiscuous […] African American men were lustful beasts who could not be trusted in the company of ‘good’ women, white women. [4]

According to the stereotypes exposed by Wells, white men understood the rape of a white woman by a black man to be an insult to their manhood [5] , whereas the rape of a black woman by a white man could not be a “punishable crime” because of her status as a “bad woman.” The racial ideology at the root of such thinking allowed white men to define lynching not as terrorism or race and gender control, but as the right action to avenge their manhood. [6] Through her reports, Wells challenged other women as well as men to join the anti-lynching campaign. The Association of Southern Women to Prevent Lynching was a subsequent group of white women that was established in the 1930s as a result of the events documented in A Red Record. Wells is also credited as one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an...

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