A Sword Among Lions
December 31, 2014 7:22 PM   Subscribe

"We all appreciate what you're doing"
"But you're LOUD and you say uncomfortable things and it is Victorian times"
"So what makes people uncomfortable in Victorian times?"
"I don't know, being alive?"

Ida B. Wells:
The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition.
Columbia has bidden the civilized world to join with her in celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, and the invitation has been accepted. At Jackson Park are displayed exhibits of her natural resources, and her progress in the arts and sciences, but that which would best illustrate her moral grandeur has been ignored.

The exhibit of the progress made by a race in 25 years of freedom as against 250 years of slavery, would have been the greatest tribute to the greatness and progressiveness of American institutions which could have been shown the world. The colored people of this great Republic number eight millions – more than one-tenth the whole population of the United States. They were among the earliest settlers of this continent, landing at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 in a slave ship, before the Puritans, who landed at Plymouth in 1620. They have contributed a large share to American prosperity and civilization. The labor of one-half of this country has always been, and is still being done by them. The first crédit this country had in its commerce with foreign nations was created by productions resulting from their labor. The wealth created by their industry has afforded to the white people of this country the leisure essential to their great progress in education, art, science, industry and invention.

Those visitors to the World's Columbian Exposition who know these facts, especially foreigners will naturally ask: Why are not the colored people, who constitute so large an element of the American population, and who have contributed so large a share to American greatness, more visibly present and better represented in this World's Exposition? Why are they not taking part in this glorious celebration of the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of their country? Are they so dull and stupid as to feel no interest in this great event? It is to answer these questions and supply as far as possible our lack of representation at the Exposition that the Afro-American has published this volume.
Lynch Law In America (speech)
Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an 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. The “unwritten law” first found excuse with the rough, rugged, and determined man who left the civilized centers of eastern States to seek for quick returns in the gold-fields of the far West. Following in uncertain pursuit of continually eluding fortune, they dared the savagery of the Indians, the hardships of mountain travel, and the constant terror of border State outlaws. Naturally, they felt slight toleration for traitors in their own ranks. It was enough to fight the enemies from without; woe to the foe within! Far removed from and entirely without protection of the courts of civilized life, these fortune-seekers made laws to meet their varying emergencies. The thief who stole a horse, the bully who “jumped” a claim, was a common enemy. If caught he was promptly tried, and if found guilty was hanged to the tree under which the court convened.
Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases
Acting upon this advice, the leading citizens met in the Cotton Exchange Building the same evening, and threats of lynching were freely indulged, not by the lawless element upon which the deviltry of the South is usually saddled—but by the leading business men, in their leading business centre. Mr. Fleming, the business manager and owning a half interest the Free Speech, had to leave town to escape the mob, and was afterwards ordered not to return; letters and telegrams sent me in New York where I was spending my vacation advised me that bodily harm awaited my return. Creditors took possession of the office and sold the outfit, and the Free Speech was as if it had never been.

The editorial in question was prompted by the many inhuman and fiendish lynchings of Afro-Americans which have recently taken place and was meant as a warning. Eight lynched in one week and five of them charged with rape! The thinking public will not easily believe freedom and education more brutalizing than slavery, and the world knows that the crime of rape was unknown during four years of civil war, when the white women of the South were at the mercy of the race which is all at once charged with being a bestial one.
The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States
The student of American sociology will find the year 1894 marked by a pronounced awakening of the public conscience to a system of anarchy and outlawry which had grown during a series of ten years to be so common, that scenes of unusual brutality failed to have any visible effect upon the humane sentiments of the people of our land.

Beginning with the emancipation of the Negro, the inevitable result of unbribled power exercised for two and a half centuries, by the white man over the Negro, began to show itself in acts of conscienceless outlawry. During the slave regime, the Southern white man owned the Negro body and soul. It was to his interest to dwarf the soul and preserve the body. Vested with unlimited power over his slave, to subject him to any and all kinds of physical punishment, the white man was still restrained from such punishment as tended to injure the slave by abating his physical powers and thereby reducing his financial worth. While slaves were scourged mercilessly, and in countless cases inhumanly treated in other respects, still the white owner rarely permitted his anger to go so far as to take a life, which would entail upon him a loss of several hundred dollars. The slave was rarely killed, he was too valuable; it was easier and quite as effective, for discipline or revenge, to sell him "Down South."
Lynch Law (from History is a Weapon, previously)
"Lynch Law," says the Virginia Lancet, "as known by that appellation, had its origin in 1780 in a combination of citizens of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, entered into for the purpose of suppressing a trained band of horsethieves and counterfeiters whose well concocted schemes had bidden defiance to the ordinary laws of the land, and whose success encouraged and emboldened them in their outrages upon the community. Col. Wm. Lynch drafted the constitution for this combination of citizens, and hence 'Lynch Law' has ever since been the name given to the summary infliction of punishment by private and unauthorized citizens."
University of Chicago Library - Guide to the Ida B. Wells Papers
posted by the man of twists and turns (12 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Huh. I didn't realize that "lynching" was named after a person. Thanks for this, this is a great post for a bunch of reasons.

(Those pictures of her, though, wow. If there was ever a look on somebody that made it crystal clear they don't have a single second of time for your bullshit, it's hers.)
posted by mhoye at 7:45 PM on December 31, 2014

This is really well done. Sister in law wrote a play on Wells, going to share this with her. As above, the name specfic was a surprise also.
posted by clavdivs at 7:57 PM on December 31, 2014

I can't get the thought out of my head... what good is a sword going to do you against a bunch of hungry lions, anyway? Like that's really going to stop them from tearing you apart.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:08 PM on December 31, 2014

I still can't get over the fact that I had to learn about Ida Wells from Kate Beaton. They taught us about lots of African-American leaders, and a lot of suffragists, but somehow Wells never made it into the curriculum. Makes me wonder if Harriet Tubman would have been left out if I hadn't grown up along the Underground Railroad.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:23 PM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Makes me wonder if Harriet Tubman would have been left out if I hadn't grown up along the Underground Railroad.

Nope. Harriet Tubman was a major figure in my mostly white small town high school history course. They actually did alright (not great) teaching Black American history up through Rosa Parks and "I have a dream." After that ... not so much. It was if this history stopped in 1965, and everything after was too controversial to cover.

I never heard about Ida Wells until I took a Women's History course in college.
posted by kanewai at 8:57 PM on December 31, 2014

There really should be an Ida B. Wells day.

Thanks for this, tmotat.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:03 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't get the thought out of my head... what good is a sword going to do you against a bunch of hungry lions, anyway? Like that's really going to stop them from tearing you apart.

Well you won't make it easy on them.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:05 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

True. But the sword is amongst the lions. They tear themselves apart. The arm does not have to weild the sword for it make a point
is what I think the liner meant in conjunction with the posts subject matter.
posted by clavdivs at 10:40 PM on December 31, 2014

Excellent post - thank you the man of twists and turns!

Just want to say that the book reviewed in the first link, Ida: A Sword Among Lions - Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula Giddings, is an amazing, eye-opening, and truly inspiring read. Any one interested in the real history of this country should read it.
posted by jammy at 5:14 AM on January 1, 2015

If you are not up for Giddings's doorstop, Mia Bay's To Tell the Truth Freely is also good.

Awesome post -- thanks so much! (Can we elect her to the Senate -- or the presidency -- posthumously?)
posted by allthinky at 8:57 AM on January 1, 2015

Wow, good post. Thanks.
posted by glasseyes at 4:05 PM on January 1, 2015

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