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Southern Women in the Anti-Lynching Campaign

Document 1

Ida B. Wells, the most outspoken of African-American critics of lynching, wrote the following pamphlet in protest:

      Since [January 1, 1892], not less than one hundred and fifty have been known to have met violent death at the hands of the cruel bloodthirsty mobs during the past nine months.

      To 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.

      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." 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.

-- Excerpt from Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors:
Lynch Law in All Its Phases
(1892).

1.  According to Wells, how did Southerners excuse widespread lynchings?

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2. What effect did Wells argue this excuse had?

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