The document project on which this lesson plan is based is available by subscription only from Alexander Street Press.
Lynching was an important extralegal aspect of the Jim Crow system that emerged in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Between 1880 and 1930 more than 3,200 African Americans were lynched in the South; at its height in 1892, lynching claimed the lives of 230 African Americans in a single year. White mobs seized, hung, shot, and often sadistically tortured and burned blacks who transgressed Southern norms for proper docility. Southern whites typically rationalized lynching by viewing it as a community response to black men's attacks on white women's sexual purity, but the victims of lynching were too varied a group -- including black women and children -- to be accounted for by such claims.
Opposition to lynching grew after 1890, even in the face of white solidarity that made it dangerous to question the practice. Black women were among the first Southerners to speak out. Over time they called upon white women to control the violence and lawlessness of white men.
To compare and contrast black and white women's approaches to ending lynching; to explore the gendered arguments against lynching; to think about how black activists encouraged white women to join them in their fight against lynching; to view the campaign against lynching over time.
Have students read Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases, 1892. Why was Wells exiled from the South? How does she argue against the assertion of Southern whites that victims of lynching were rapists? What does she argue is the real reason behind lynching?
Next read Jessie Daniel Ames, "Southern Women and Lynching," October 1936. What was the goal of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL)? How did members use their position as white women in Southern society to move toward this goal? What measures did the women take to try to prevent lynchings?
Compare and contrast the two documents: What was different about the viewpoints of Wells and Ames toward lynching? What accounts for these differences? In what ways did gender shape their arguments against lynching? Can you see differences because of change over the forty-year period?
Ask students to read Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Speech Given at the Women's Interracial Conference, 8 October 1920. Based on Brown's speech, ask students to discuss how black activists related to sympathetic southern whites. Why did Brown tell the audience, "The Negro women of the South lay everything that happens to the members of her race at the door of the Southern white woman. Just why I don't know, but we all feel that you can control your men?" How might Brown's speech have contributed to the formation of the ASWPL?
Class activity: Have students break into groups and write short speeches that either Ames or Wells may have given to convince other women to join the fight against lynching. Each group should have a different audience in mind. For example, one group could write a speech by Wells to Northerners in 1892 to try to arouse indignation over the violence in the South; another group could take Wells' point of view and yet write the speech as though she was speaking to middle-class African-Americans in the South about their attitudes about the "guilt" of those lynched. One group could write a speech by Ames attempting to recruit members to the ASWPL; another could write a speech to a southern white protestant group with the aim of collecting signatures against lynching. Have the groups exchange their speeches, offer comments to one another, and then read their speeches aloud to the entire class.
Paper assignment: Ask students to read the introduction to Jessie Daniel Ames, The Changing Character of Lynching, 1942. Have them address the following questions in a 3-page essay about the document: How does Ames's viewpoint in this piece compare to the other essay she authored in 1936? Do you find her later work more optimistic or pessimistic? How does her analysis of the underlying causes of lynching compare to Wells's argument put forth in 1892?