Introducing Ida B. Wells
Mr. Chauncy M. Depew in his oration delivered at the dedicatory exercises of the World’s Fair a few days ago said, “The United States is a christian country and a living and practical christianity is characteristic of its people.” In his conviction that this is a christian country, that a living and practical christianity is characteristic of its people we naturally conclude that Mr. Depew along with other truthful, law-abiding citizens of this great commonwealth is ignorant of the many barbarities, and the fiendish atrocities visited by the Southern Whites upon the defenceless and persecuted Blacks. We must conclude that Mr. Depew is not aware of the knavish methods employed to disfranchise the Negro or of the scandalous compliances resorted to which transform the courts from seats of justice into veritable haunts of inquisition and corruption wherever the Afro-American is concerned.
A lecture upon Southern Mob Rule is therefore a necessity to night because of the vicious tactics of the South and because it is imperative that the race shall everywhere have their eyes opened to the outrages, which the government seems powerless to prevent.
When men whose only crime is the color of their skin are denied even the farce of a trial, are forcibly torn from jails of the largest and wealthiest cities of the South and foully murdered, it is time for a persistent and systematic agitation of the subject of Southern Mob Rule, time for an earnest and comprehensive discussion of ways and means of protection. Surely no one can charge us with exaggerating our woes and magnifying the indignities heaped upon us, when the murder of colored men is of almost daily occurrence in the South, when you have with you to night in the person of Miss Wells an exile, driven from home, because she dared to raise her voice in defense of her own oppressed and persecuted people.
I can not believe that the great mass of Americans, who fought for freedom and who love justice, are awake to the shocking and systematic subversion of all law and order in the South. To ignorance and not to connivance must we charge the wicked apathy of some of the best citizens of the country. Open their eyes to the magnitude and hideousness of the evil flourishing in the South, blighting the lives and wrecking the happiness of men whose labor has enriched and whose blood has been shed for this country and I can not believe that by their silence and indifference they will continue to be accomplices in crime. Let us impress upon men and women whose hearts are not dead to law and love that there are citizens in the South who are deprived of all the rights of citizenship, denied even the right to life, who are hunted down and butchered like wild animals, and I am persuaded that the inquisition will be throttled to death.
This meeting then is a step in the right direction. We have come to agitate the subject of vital interest to us all. There are two organs thro’ which public opinion may vent itself, the press and the lecture platform. It is our privilege to have with us to night a representative of both.
One of the most important factors in moulding public opinion to day is the newspaper. Into the houses of of the rich as well as the poor it goes carrying conviction to thousands by the logic or cunning of its argument. According as it arrays itself on the side of right and justice or of evil and fraud does it elevate or debase public morals. A great responsibility rests upon the conscientious journalist, a mighty power is wielded by his pen.
In Mr. T. Thomas Fortune of the New York Age we possess a journalist who has always felt this responsibility, who has always been a power for good, a journalist whose opinions have been an education and whose sentiments an inspiration to all earnest souls.
This paper has always been a credit to himself as well as to his race, full of food for thought and reflection. His stand has been firmly and irrevocably for the right. Against unscrupulous methods, against cowardly submission against trickery and treachery he has inveighed with unremitting zeal. With an ardor and energy worthy of emulation he has worked to disseminate truths bearing upon issues and conditions of vital interest to the whole race.
When Miss Wells, a journalist of the South, exiled for daring to use the prerogative of free speech in defence of her own race, fled to the South, it was Mr. Fortune who espoused her cause, and made it possible for her to continue the good work so nobly begun. We admire Miss Wells for her undaunted courage, we laud her zeal in so worthy a cause, we ecourage her ambition to enlighten the mind and touch the heart by a thrilling and earnest recital of the wrongs heaped upon her oppressed people in the South.
We extend to her a cordial welcome, we offer her our hearty support. In suppressing Miss Wells paper, the Free Speech, tyranny has wrought a good work of which it little dreamed. The fetters placed upon truth in the South are here transformed into weapons against itself.
We congratulate ourselves upon having two such efficient and zealous workers as Miss Wells and Mr. Fortune to address us tonight. The harvest truly is great but the labourers are few. Too much can not be said, too much can not be done to throw full light upon the dark and dangerous passes along which the Afro American is obliged to grope his way in the South.