The English Crusade
Against Mob and Lynch Law
in the United States
July 29, 1894 — Bethel A.M.E. Church, Sullivan Street, New York City
Our work is only begun; our race — hereditary bondsmen — must strike the blow if they would be free. The negro is not free, in spite of the Emancipation Proclamation; that noble document has been a dead-letter in the south for the last thirty years. Protest after protest has been made to Congress and to the President, but it has been of no use. We now ask the American people for justice. The negro vote in the South is as completely nullified as if there were none, and every Southerner knows that one white vote is equal to three negro votes. The North and West have tolerated the barbarous conditions in the South because they are afraid to hurt the South’s feelings. We have tried to get a hearing from the American press and people, without avail. The white people of the North and West have believed the Southern reports of crimes alleged to have been committed by our people; for the last two years I have been endeavoring to tell the whole truth. I have been banished from my home for this alone. An English lady who had seen for herself the condition of our people in the South, and seeing the hopelessness of our ever arousing public opinion in the North, asked me a few days after a colored man was burned alive at Paris, Texas, in February, 1893, to come to England to arouse a moral sentiment in England against these revolting cruelties practiced by barbarous whites. The British people took with incredulity my statements that colored men were roasted or lynched in broad daylight, very frequently with the sanction of the officers of the law; and looked askance at statements that half-grown boys shot bullets into hanging bodies, and, after cutting off toes and fingers of the dead or dying, carried them about as trophies. They could easily have believed such atrocities of cannibals or heathens, but not the American people, and in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ But when I showed them photographs of such scenes, the newspaper reports, and the reports of searching investigations on the subject, they accepted the evidence of their own senses against their wills. As soon as they were positively convinced resolutions were passed asking the American people to put away from them such shame and degradation.
[Miss Wells spoke of her work in Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester and in other places, making on an average ten addresses a week, and while in London speaking once every day and twice on Sunday.]
The resolutions were not passed in the spirit of “Holier than thou.” We told the British press that our reason for coming 3,000 miles was to win the moral force of Great Britain, the country whose opinion America held first. There were enough Americans in England who defended their country and flag; some loved the flag so well that they felt duty bound to support the spots on it as well as the stars and stripes. We asked for the lowest of our race the same protection by law that the highest white man receives. The British Nation recognized that no civilized nation could refuse such a request. We showed that the negro was not so black as he was painted. We did not ask for maudlin sympathy for criminals, but for common justice.
[Miss Wells spoke of “the unsuccessful effort” of the Southern newspapers to break down her testimony by publishing what the British press termed “cowardly, obscene and scurrilous” attacks. An Anti-Lynching Committee of which the editors of the London Daily News and The Contemporary Review were members, was formed as a result of Miss Wells’s work. Nothing since the days of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” had taken such a hold in England as the Anti-Lynching Crusade, was the comment of the Rev. Dr. Clifford, of London. The scene of the conflict “to put down later-day slavery” had been transferred to America. Dynamite, daggers and the torch were not necessary to accomplish the work. In spite of the centuries of slavery and oppression, the colored people never had been and never would be Anarchists. The colored man would appeal to the moral forces of the country. Lynching would cease when the elements for good combined. Miss Wells strongly urged all her race to unite all over the country. The charge of inhuman crime so frequently made against colored men was a mere cloak, Miss Wells said, to hide the real motive for lynching — race prejudice.]
Black women have had to suffer far more at the hands of white men than white women at the hands of black men. Every single report which is published should be investigated by detectives, and let the negro witness ask that his statement be published side by side with that of the lynchers.
[In closing, Miss Wells asked all to combine to vindicate the name of the race.]
Know ye not, hereditary bondsmen that they who would be free, themselves must strike the blow!
Source: “She Pleads for Her Race. Miss Ida B. Wells Talks About Her Anti-Lynching Campaign,” New York Herald Tribune, July 30, 1894.
Also: Ida B. Well, The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader, ed. Mia Bay (New York: Penguin Books) 2014.