When and where I enter, PJ Giddings

Tags: Memphis, lynching, Thomas Moss, Paula Giddings, Ida B. Wells, Black men, Robert Church, Mary Church, Ida Wells, McDowell, Mary Church Terrell, Elizabeth Wells, James Wells, Louisa Church, musical instruments, Memphis riot, the Populist movement, political power, Black Women, White store, Betty Moss, Henry Stewart, Calvin McDowell
Content: When and Where I Enter The Impact of black women on Race and Sex in America Paula Giddings
I "To Sell My Life as Dearly as Possible": Ida B. Wells and the First Antilynching Campaign
Before they took his life, they asked Thomas Moss if he had anything to
say. "Tell for them
go west," he told his abductors. "There those final words, Thomas Moss and
is no two
justice of his
friends, Calvin McDowell and Henry Stewart, were lynched a mile outside
of Memphis, Tennessee. A newspaper account of the mob-murder pointed
out that the men did not die without a struggle. McDowell had tried to
wrestle a gun from the hands of one of the killers. When the Black man's
body was recovered, the fingers of his right hand had been shot to pieces;
his eyes were gouged out.
The lynching of March 9, 1892, was the climax of ugly events in Memphis.
From the time the three black men had gone into business for themselves,
their People's Grocery, as it was called, had been the target of White resent-
ment. The store, which sold food and miscellaneous items and became a
gathering place for Memphis Blacks, represented, after all, a desire for
economic independence. The start-up capital for the grocery had been
provided by Moss, a postman who was the city's first Black to hold a fed-
eral position. He worked in the store evenings, while his partners worked
there during the day.
For Whites the most galling thing about the People's Grocery was that
it took away business from a White store owner who had long been used
to a monopoly of Black trade. The White proprietor initiated against the
Black businessmen a series of provocations that culminated in an attack of
armed thugs sent to raze the grocery. The attack came on a Saturday night,
when the store was full of Black men--armed Black men--who repelled
the invaders and shot three Whites in the process. In short order Moss,
McDowell, and Stewart were arrested along with one hundred other Blacks
charged with conspiracy.
The White press in Memphis whipped the community into a frenzy over
the incident. The Black men were painted as "brutes" and
14 / Paula Giddings
"criminals" who victimized "innocent" Whites. If the wounded men died,
Blacks were warned, there was going to be a bloodletting. The threat hung
heavy in the air. Whites were permitted to enter the jail where the Blacks
were interned to "look them over." Outside, Blacks stood vigil to discourage
the possibility of mob violence.
The vigil ended when it was reported that the Whites would recover
from their gunshot wounds--for the Blacks thought their friends would
now be safe. They were wrong. In a predawn raid, Moss, McDowell, and
Stewart were taken from their cells, put on the switch engine of a train
headed out of the city, and lynched. In the angry aftermath of the killing,
a judge issued an order for the sheriff to shoot any Black demonstrator
who seemed to be "causing trouble," and prohibited the sale of guns to
Blacks. Emboldened by the order, and unappeased by the death of the three
men, armed Whites converged upon the People's Grocery, helped them-
selves to food and drink, then destroyed most of what they couldn't con-
sume or steal. Creditors auctioned the brutalized remnants and the store
was closed down on an ominous note of finality.
If the incident had occurred in any other time or place, it might have
been set down as just another dreary statistic. Lynching (legally defined
as murder committed by a mob of three or more persons) of Blacks had
been on the rise for the murders, there had been
last decade. In 1892, the 255 lynchings, more than
iyneaanryopf rtehveioMusemyepahri.2s
But the deaths of Moss, McDowell, and Stewart would open a new chapter
in the racial struggle, for they spurred two women to dedicate their lives
to the fight against lynching and the malevolent impulses that underlined
it. Two women named Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells.
Terrell was living in Washington, D.C., when she heard the terrible news. Born Mary Church in Memphis, Tennessee, she had been a friend of Thomas Moss since childhood. Terrell had seen him less than a year before in Memphis, at her wedding. That had been such a happy time. She had just returned from two years of study in Europe, and it was so good to see her Memphis friends again--especially Moss. For a wedding present he gave her a set of elegant silver oyster forks. Moss's death was particularly unsettling for Terrell at this time in her life. She was twenty-nine and, though expecting her first child, had not found peace of mind in domestic tranquility. That she always wanted to work had been a point of contention between Mary and her
When and Where I Enter / 15
father since her graduation from Oberlin eight years before. A former slave
who became one of the wealthiest Blacks in the country, Robert Church
wanted his daughter to live the life of a gentlewoman. Ladies didn't work,
he always told her. But Mary continually defied that notion. She taught at
Wilberforce University and later at Washington Colored High School,
despite her father's threats to disinherit her. In D.C. she met Robert Terrell,
principal of the highly touted Black public school. She married him and
settled in Washington, where the future of her husband--a Harvard
graduate and lawyer bound for a municipal judgeship--was assured. The
marriage and difficult pregnancy had almost persuaded Terrell to try to
live the life of a "lady," as her father would put it. But then came the news
about Thomas Moss.
She sought out an old family friend, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass,
and together they secured an appointment with President Benjamin Har-
rison at the White House. They implored him to condemn lynching in his
annual address before Congress. Douglass's plea was especially eloquent,
Terrell later wrote, but like every President before Franklin Roosevelt,
Harrison refused to take a public stand against lynching.
For Terrell, though, the lynching of her friend, followed not long after
by the death of her newborn infant in a segregated, poorly equipped hos-
pital, erased forever any idea of leading the traditional life of a lady. She
plunged headlong into work, embarking upon a vibrant activism that
would continue until her death, sixty-two years later. In a short span of
time, she served as president of the country's most prominent Black cultural
organization, the Bethel Literary and Historical Society; was appointed to
the Washington, D.C., Board of Education, becoming the first Black woman
to serve on a citywide board; and co-founded the Washington Colored
Women's League.
The implications of Moss's death were seared into Terrell's memory by
an editorial in the Black Memphis newspaper free speech. "The city of
Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the
Negro rival,"
if it
shaeiddainrepsatrot.p3 rTohteecwt hoirmdssewlfeargeawinrsitttethnebwy hIditae
man or become his B. Wells, columnist
and co-owner of the paper. She had been so stunned by the lynching that
she had had to force herself to write a cogent editorial for her readers. In
her ten years as a journalist, and in the nearly half-century of writing that
followed, her columns on the Moss lynching were the most painful. A
woman who never made friends easily, Wells considered Thomas Moss
and his wife, Betty, her
16 / Paula Giddings
very closest friends. She was godmother to their little girl, Maurine; Betty,
she knew, was pregnant with her second child.
As a widely respected journalist, Wells's words were taken to heart by
the beleaguered Black community. Her first editorials suggested that Blacks,
vulnerable to the whims of White lawlessness, should take Moss's advice
to "save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives
and property, murders us in
in the courts, but takes us out and residents who could, did just that.
Hundreds of Blacks began leaving Memphis for Kansas, Oklahoma, and
points west. Ministers escorted whole congregations; entire families began
their exodus to unknown territories, taking only what they could carry.
Betty Moss stayed in Memphis until her child was born, and then moved
to Indiana.
So many Blacks took the advice of Wells that the White business com-
munity began to panic. "Business was practically at a standstill," Wells
recalled in her autobiography, "for the Negro was famous then, as now,
for spending his money for fine clothes, furniture, jewelry, and pianos and
other musical instruments, to say nothing of good things to eat. Music
houses had more musical back on their hands than
plan, thrown also helped
instigate a Black boycott of the city's trolleys, causing the transportation
company to join the list of businesses beginning to teeter on the edge of
Ida B. Wells didn't believe in the ultimate efficacy of passive resistance,
however. She purchased a pistol, determined to "sell my life as dearly as
possible," and suggested that other Blacks do the same. "A Winchester
rifle should have a place of honor in every home," Wells told her com-
munity. "When the white man...knows he runs as great a risk of biting the
dust every time his for Afro-American
But Wells would go beyond these responses to the Moss lynching. What
had occurred in Memphis was only a part of a larger phenomenon that
threatened Blacks throughout the country. Her entire life, it seemed, had
prepared her not only to understand but to confront the broader issue head
on--despite the consequences.
Her life paralleled Mary Church Terrell's in many ways. The two women were born a year apart, and both were daughters of former slaves. Their fathers were sons of their former masters; both were men who filled their daughters with racial pride--and the spirit of defiance. Settling in Memphis after the Civil War, Robert Church was the
When and Where I Enter / 17
owner of a saloon which was ransacked in the Memphis riot of 1866. He
was shot in the head and left to die, but miraculously survived. The threat
of continued violence did not stop him from testifying against the men in
a federal inquiry, or from being politically active in the community there-
after. He was a "race man," as one would have been called then.
James Wells, Ida's father, was also a race man, in Holly Springs, Missis-
sippi, where Ida was born. He, too, was a man who refused to be intimid-
ated. A carpenter who worked for the town's leading contractor, Wells re-
fused entreaties to "sell" his newly won vote. The refusal cost him his job,
and without hesitation--or regret--he moved his family and went into
business for himself. It was a lesson not lost on his oldest daughter. The
fathers of both Wells and Terrell married energetic and determined women.
Louisa Church established a fashionable hair salon in Memphis which
provided the family with their first home and carriage. Elizabeth Wells
thrust most of her energies into the rearing of six children, making sure
they understood discipline and the need for religious. "Our job," Ida, the firstborn, wrote,
education, both "was to learn all
Like so many freedmen and women, the Wellses believed deeply in the
sanctity of family life. James and Elizabeth were among the many who,
though married as slaves, renewed their vows "officially" as persons of
free will. Their ideals made the event of 1878 all the more tragic.
That year was a turning point for both families. A yellow fever epidemic
raged through the Mississippi Valley leaving death in its wake. Both of
Ida's parents were consumed by the disease within twenty-four hours of
each other, and their nine-month-old baby died as well. Friends tried to
help out, offering to take the children in. But Ida Wells refused to have her
five surviving brothers and sisters separated; her parents would "turn over
in their graves," she felt, especially since one of her sisters, crippled from
a spinal disease, would have been put into an institution. So at the age of
sixteen, Wells ended her childhood to become the sole support of her young
family. She left Rust College and, lying about her age, got a teaching posi-
tion in a rural school. For two years Wells maintained a grueling schedule
of riding a mule to the school each week and returning on weekends to
take care of the domestic needs of her siblings, until at last relatives in
Memphis could take the family in.
The epidemic changed the lives of the Churches too, but in another way.
Robert Church sent his wife and daughter to New York but remained in
Memphis, where residents were deserting their prop-
18 / Paula Giddings
erties or selling them at depressed prices. Church, speculating that the city
would eventually recover, bought up all the property he could. The gamble
paid off in handsome dividends. Church reputedly became the first Black
millionaire in the South.
Both women lived in Memphis in the 1880's. Wells attended LeMoyne
Institute and received a license to teach Elementary School. During summer
vacations she took teachers' training courses at Fisk University. Although
never a close friend of the Churches she had brief associations with both
Mary and her father. Once, in dire need of funds, Wells wrote Robert
Church, asking him for a loan. She was in California and did not have the
fare to return to Memphis in time for the opening of the school semester.
In the letter Wells assured him that she would repay the loan, with interest,
and that she was a woman of reputable character. She wrote to him, Wells
said, because much money
h[$e1w50a]sa"ntdhewoanitlyfomr amneotfomreypraayceit.I"k8 nReowbecrotuCldhulercnhd
me that sent her
the needed fare.
Wells also met Mary Church briefly, probably just before the latter went
to Oberlin. On Ida Wells, who was serious-minded and disdained social
frivolities, the meeting left a lasting impression. Mary Church was "the
first woman of my age who is similarly inspired with the same desires,
and ambitions," she observed. "I only wish I At the time, Wells hardly realized that their
had known lives would
her long diverge,
only to intersect periodically, sometimes contentiously, for the remainder
of their lives. Both had distinct roles in the struggle ahead, roles shaped by
the contrasting resonances of their young adult years.
While Mary Church was studying the "Gentleman's Course" at Ober-
lin--a curriculum that included classical Latin and Greek--Wells underwent
a different sort of education. It was 1884, and Ida B. Wells took her accus-
tomed seat in the "Ladies' Coach" of a train bound for Memphis from
Woodstock, Tennessee. But by that year, customs in the South were chan-
ging. A conductor demanded that Wells leave the first-class section for the
smoking car. When she refused, the conductor attempted to force her from
her seat--a mistake, he quickly realized when he felt a vicelike bite on the
back of his hand. He called more conductors to his aid, and to the standing
cheers of the White passengers on the train, the three men dragged the
petite Black passenger out of the car.
A humiliated and angry Wells returned to Memphis and immedi-
When and Where I Enter / 19
ately engaged the sole Black lawyer in the city to bring suit against the
railroad. The attorney seemed to dawdle on the case, and Wells suspected
that he had been bought off by the authorities. She got a White lawyer and
had her day in court. Before a judge who was an ex-Union officer, the de-
termined Wells won the decision. The case prompted a White Paper, the
Daily Appeal, to write the first of many articles about the city's most contro-
AGAINST THE CHESAPEAKE & OHIO RAILROAD ran its headlines on Christ-
mas Day, 1884.
Needless to say, Wells was ecstatic about the victory. Inaugurating her
journalistic career, she wrote an article in a Baptist weekly called theLiving
Way. If Blacks stood up for their rights, she said, those rights, granted in
Reconstruction legislation, would be preserved. But what she would come
painfully to realize was that Reconstruction, in more ways than one, was
in rapid eclipse. What historian Benjamin Quarles calls the South's "coun-
terrevolution," though incomplete, was inexorably moving forward. The
institutionalization of "legal" disenfranchisement, segregation, and White
terror tactics had not yet congealed, but it was hardening.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway appealed to a higher court. Company
officials offered Wells more money than the damages previously awarded,
if she would agree not to contest the case. Of course she refused the money,
on principle, but it was not until much later that she realized the full import
of the case. Wells was the first Afro-American to challenge the 1883 nulli-
fication of the Civil Rights Bill passed during Reconstruction. Her victory
would have set a significant precedent--a fact not lost on the Tennessee
Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court's decision.
Wells was devastated. For her, it wasn't just the loss of the case, but the
loss and
of faith utterly
tdhiastcjouusrtiacgeewd...ou.l"dsuhletimwarotetleyipnrehvearild. i"aIrfye.e1l0sIhnorhninodf sthigahttb, ehlieerf
despondency seems naпve, but as late as the 1880's most Blacks still believed
that racial injustice was the handiwork of the lowly, an aberration that
could be successfully challenged. It was their faith in the "system" that
steeled their determination to be worthy citizens despite the bitter experi-
ence of slavery and discrimination. With that faith, Afro-Americans--and
not just the most privileged ones--were making substantial economic gains
after the war. They were attending school in droves: All in all, more than
a quarter million Blacks attended more than four thousand schools estab-
lished by the
20 / Paula Giddings
Freedmen's Bureau. Afro-Americans were also making extraordinary efforts to organize their family life in the wake of a turbulent slave system. But as the twentieth century drew nearer, that deeply rooted faith in justice began to be shaken. For Wells, the court decision brought a focus to her brooding concerns, a focus that would be expressed through journalism. She began writing a column for the Living Way on a regular basis, and her articles, about everything from compelling national issues to local community ones, became so popular that they were picked up by other Black newspapers throughout the country. The evolution of her career would parallel that of the Black press nationally. In the 1880's almost two hundred Black newspapers were being published every week, and the best of them--including the Detroit Plaindealer, the New York Age, and the Indianapolis Freeman--carried her columns under the pen name of "Iola." Wells's bold style, combined with her physical attractiveness, elicited a great deal of attention--especially from her male colleagues. The editors of the Washington Bee described her atoslaer"arbelmy awrkelalbpleroapnodrttiaolennetdedansdchooforlemadaryma,dadbroeusts.f"o1u1r and a half feet high, The careers of Wells and Church continued on divergent paths in the late 1880's and 1890's. In 1889, while Mary Church was studying in Europe, Wells was elected as the first woman secretary of the National AfroAmerican Press Association. T. Thomas Fortune, editor of the New York Age, referring to her election at the association's convention in Washington, D.C., noted:
She has become famous as one of the few of our women who handles a
goose quill with diamond point as handily as any of us men. She is girlish
looking in physique with sharp regular features, penetrating eyes, firm set
thin lips, and a sweet voice. She stuck to the conference through all the row
and gas and seemed to enjoy the experience. If Iola was a man she would
be as
a a
humming steel trap,
aInnddespheenhdaesntnionspyomliptiactsh. yShweihthashpulmenbtuygo.1f2nerve;
Although Wells, unlike Church, was always strapped for funds, she managed to buy a one-third interest in Free Speech that year, and none too soon, it turned out. In 1891, the year that Church married an upwardly mobile young lawyer, Wells was fired from her teaching position as a result of an exposй on the Memphis school system. Her lack of sympathy with "humbug" obviously applied as much to the Black community as to the White. Teaching, frankly,
When and Where I Enter / 21
bored her anyway, but the dismissal did pose a financial problem. For all
of her fame as a journalist (she was even called "Princess of the Press") it
didn't pay the rent. But her new circumstances forced her to turn a passion-
ate avocation into a full-time job. So she took to the road, traveling through
Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee to increase the paper's circulation.
Within nine months after her school dismissal, Free Speech subscriptions
increased from 1,500 to 3,500, and within a year she was earning the same
income she had as a teacher. Wells was in Natchez on one of those business
trips when she heard about the lynching of Thomas Moss.
While Terrell agonized over the incident from afar--in Washing-
ton--Wells was forced to return to a Black Memphis community in shock
and despair. "I have no power to describe the feeling of horror that pos-
sessed every member of us that protection of the
tlhawe rwacaesinnoMloemngpehriosuwrhs,e"nsthheewtrruotthe.1d3aWwneellds
upon must
have had a sense of dйjа vu from her own earlier experiences with the rail-
road. What she had gotten a glimmer of in 1883 was being vented full-force
less than a decade later. Beginning with neighboring Mississippi in 1890,
all the Southern states were in the process of disenfranchising Blacks by
legal means; oppressive Black codes replaced their slave antecedents; se-
gregation was becoming the rule, and violence toward Blacks was on the
Still, Blacks in Memphis, perhaps more than those of any other southern
city, were convinced that the blood tides would not reach them. True,
Memphis had been the scene of one of the worst postwar riots in the
country, when forty-six Black men, women, and children were killed and
more than $100,000 worth of Black-owned property was destroyed. Black
women had been especially victimized by the violence. Federal inquiries
revealed that many of them, living alone, were robbed, beaten, and raped.
Cynthia Townsend, a Black woman who testified before federal authorities,
told of a neighbor who was attacked by "three or four men," all of whom
"had connexion [sic] with her in turn around, and then one of them tried
to use her sometimes
mouth." become a
The little
It was widely believed that such racial violence was a perversion, the
work of poor whites who had always resented economic competition from
Blacks. But endemic racial violence was a thing of the past, many Blacks
believed. In subsequent years, Black businessmen had thrived; Black legis-
lators were elected to state and city government. But the Moss lynching of
1892 dimmed such optimism. And the rude
22 / Paula Giddings
awakening sent Wells and Terrell on a course that changed both their lives. Their approaches were different--symbolized by Wells purchasing a pistol, situated as she was within the belly of the beast, while Terrell, no doubt wearing her accustomed white gloves and expensive strand of pearls, went to the White House. Each would be effective in her own way; but Wells's radical response would have a more immediate impact.
"The Truth About Lynching"
The lynching of Thomas Moss further clarified Wells's perspective: The increasing violence toward Blacks had little to do with their alleged criminal behavior; rather lynching was the tool of the new caste system being imposed by the South. For Thomas Moss, everyone knew, was a good man, a loving husband and father, and a sterling citizen. His only crimes were to succeed at a business of his own, then to defend himself when Whites tried to destroy it. Furthermore, his murder was not at the hands of a few aberrants, but with the entire White establishment as accomplice. "The more I studied the situation," wrote Wells, "the more I was convinced that tnhoelSoonugtehrehrinsepr lhaaydthninegv,ehr igsostetrevnaonvt,earnhdishriessseonutmrceenotftihnactotmhee.N"1e5gTrohewraessentment was even more intense, she surmised, toward Blacks who were in a position to compete with Whites. Lynching was a direct result of the gains Blacks were making throughout the South. Thomas Moss was only one of a growing number of Afro-Americans who were planting solid economic stakes into southern soil. At the turn of the century, the National Negro Business League, an organization founded by Booker T. Washington, reported that in a city as small as Montgomery, Alabama, with two thousand Black residents, there were:
...twenty-three Black-owned restaurants, a dry-goods store, thirty shoe-
makers, twelve contractors and builders, fifteen blacksmith shops, wood
and coal yards, butcher stalls, greengrocers, draymen, insurance and real-
estate agents, a lawyer, undertakers--all doing
wa edlle.n16tist,
The same report noted that 187,000 Afro-Americans in the South owned their own farms, several of them more than a thousand acres
When and Where I Enter / 23
in size. How such figures could be translated into political power was
vividly seen in the Populist movement of the late nineteenth century. The
movement was made up of farmers who sought to wrest control from the
planter class, and in a number of contests, Blacks held the balance of power
in electing Populist candidates in the South. If something weren't done,
Blacks could upset the South's long-standing political and economic power
base. For Black men now represented a significant portion of the electorate;
in some states like Mississippi--whose border lay close to Memphis--there
were more Black eligible voters than White. There was no doubt about it:
Afro-Americans were a threat and lynching was the means to counteract
Of course Whites used a more devious rationale to explain the "strange"
dark-skinned "fruit" hanging from southern trees. The "Black peril," au-
thorities like Philip A. Bruce proclaimed, was loosed upon the land of the
There was no better candidate to articulate the "danger" for the entire
nation than Bruce. He was a trained historian; the son of a plantation
owner who had lorded over five hundred slaves; the brother-in-law of
writer Thomas Nelson Page; the nephew of the Confederacy's former sec-
retary of war--and a Harvard graduate. Bruce's thesis, formulated in the
1889 publication The Plantation Negro as a Freeman, was that Blacks, "cut off
from the spirit of White society," had regressed to a primitive and thus
criminal state. Bereft of the master's influence, Blacks were now even closer
to the "African type" than the slaves had been.
This sudden outbreak of barbarism included a penchant for rape. Black
men, he said, appearance of
strangely alluring and seductive If any poor Black soul thought he
in the could
take refuge from the sweeping charges on the basis of his class, he was
sorely mistaken. The regression and attendant lust was as true for "the
Black legislator, who studied the
tBhieblteeaacshiterwwashfoogr rtahdeucaotmedmforonmlabcoolrleerg,"e,Barnudcethceonpcrleuadched1e8r.
In fact, as a Harper's Weekly article noted, middle-class Blacks were the
greater threat. For it was they who were "most likely to aim at social
eleqauranleitdytoanrdestpoeclot stheethweoamwaenwofitthhewshuipcheriionrsrlaacvee.y"1t9imThees,mBalagcakzimneencahllaedd
the phenomenon "The New Negro Crime."
The charge was leveled so consistently against Black men, and came
from such impeccable sources, that the whole nation seemed to
24 / Paula Giddings
take it for granted. Not only Harper's but other scholarly and reputable
magazines and newspapers wrote about the "new crime." The liberal re-
former Jane Addams, though opposed to lynching, nevertheless believed
that Black men had a proclivity for rape. Even some Blacks began to wonder.
FlarsecdiveiroicuksnDeossugolnasthsehpaadrtboefgNunegtrooebse,l"ieavcecotrhdaitng"tthoeWre ewllsa.s20aWn einllcsrheearssinelgf
had doubts: "Like many another person who had read of lynching in the
South," she wrote, "I had accepted the idea meant to be conveyed--that
although lynching was irregular and contrary to law and order...perhaps
tlihfee."b2r1ute deserved death anyhow and the mob was justified in taking his
But Moss and his friends were not guilty of any crime, "new" or other-
wise. Perhaps others weren't either. Perhaps, as Wells wrote, "lynching
was merely an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth
keep the race terrorized and `keep the nigger to find the truth by investigating every lynching
she could. For months, she culled newspaper accounts, went to the scene
of lynchings, interviewed eyewitnesses. All in all, she researched the cir-
cumstances of 728 lynchings that had taken place during the last decade.
The result was a fastidiously documented report. Only a third of the
murdered Blacks were even accused of rape, much less guilty of it, Wells
discovered. Most were killed for crimes like "incendiarism," "race preju-
dice," "quarreling with Whites," and "making threats." Furthermore, not
only men but women and even children were lynched. "So great is Southern
hate and prejudice," Wells wrote, "they legally (?) hung poor little thirteen-
year-old Mildrey Brown at Columbia, S.C., Oct. 7th on the circumstantial
evidence that she poisoned a white infant. If her guilt had been proven
unmistakeable, had she been White," Wells concluded, "Mildrey Brown
wSoouutlhdCnaervoelrinhaadviesgbreaecnedhufnorge.vTehre...c.o"u23ntry would have been aroused and
Had Wells been content to publish these findings, she would have been
provocative enough. But she tempted fate even further by exposing the
rawest nerve in the South's patriarchal bosom. In the course of her invest-
igations, Wells uncovered a significant number of interracial liaisons. She
dared to print not only that such relationships existed, but that in many
cases white women had actually taken the initiative. Black men were being
killed for being "weak enough," in Wells's words, to "accept" White wo-
men's favors.
When and Where I Enter / 25
Wells gave an example of a lynch victim who had tried to escape the
advances of his boss's daughter, even to the point of quitting his job. The
woman pursued him, however, and when they were discovered together,
the girl charged rape. In another instance, Wells investigated a case in In-
dianola, Mississippi, where a man was lynched after allegedly raping an
eight-year-old girl. The girl, Wells discovered, was not eight but eighteen
and had been a frequent visitor to the Black man's cabin. The journalist
also documented several cases of White women calmly bearing Black babies;
one such woman, to protect her lover, tried to deny that she was White.
She had reason. Several Black men had been lynched for the crime of mis-
When two more lynchings occurred while Wells was still conducting
her investigations, she wrote the editorial that prompted her permanent
banishment from the South. "Nobody in this section of the country believed
the threadbare lie that Negro men rape white women," she challenged. "If
Southern white men are not careful, they will overreach themselves and
public which
sentiment will have a will be very damaging
rteoatchtieomn.oAracl ornepcluutsaitoionnwoifllththeeirnwboemreeanc.h"2e4d
Fortunately, while the editorial was still being set into type she was on
her way to Philadelphia to accept a long-standing invitation from the act-
ivist and writer Frances Ellen Harper. From Philadelphia she went to New
York, where she was met by T. Thomas Fortune of the New York Age. By
then, the editorial had come out in Memphis and the backlash had been
brutal and immediate. Wells's newspaper office was looted and burned to
the ground; her co-owners, barely beating the mob, were run out of town;
and Wells herself was warned that she would be hanged from a lamppost
if she were to return. There were "agents" posted at the train station, she
was told, to watch out for her. Fortune, who was no stranger to the South
(he she
was was
a Floridian) was troubled by the news from Memphis. in New York, he told her, "I'm afraid that you will have
"The issue was forced," Wells thought after hearing the reaction to her
editorial. She would simply have to fight from "exile." On June 5, 1892, the
New York Age carried her seven-column article on its front page. Touted as
the "first inside story of Negro lynching," it included names, dates, places,
and circumstances of hundreds of lynchings for alleged rape. The response
to the article was sensational and Fortune published ten thousand copies
of the issue; one thousand were sold in the streets of Memphis alone.
26 / Paula Giddings
In the following months, as a paid contributor, Wells continued to write
two weekly columns for the paper under the heading "Iola's Southern
Field." Always the businesswoman, Wells also purchased a one-fourth in-
terest in the Age in exchange for her Free Speech subscription list.
Wells next wanted to publish her investigative findings in booklet form.
But she faced the ever-present problem of insufficient funds to underwrite
such an enterprise. In 1892, Black women came to her aid. They planned a
testimonial, both in honor of her courageous stand and to raise funds for
her booklet, which would be called "Southern Horror: Lynch Law in All
Its Phases."
The testimonial, held October 5 in New York City's Lyric Hall, was a
historic for one
event: "the greatest demonstration of their own number," Wells later
ewveror taet.t2e6mNpetevderbbyerfaocree
women had so
many leading women of the race come together. Two hundred and fifty
Black women came to honor Wells, and the list was a veritable Who's Who
of the Black eastern establishment. Present was Boston's Josephine St. Pierre
Ruffin, a suffragist, activist, and wife of a prominent legislator and judge.
Dr. Susan McKinney from Brooklyn was also there. She was the valedictori-
an graduate of Long Island Medical College and considered the leading
woman physician of the race. Sarah Garnet, the first Black principal of an
integrated school in New York, and widow of the famous abolitionist Henry
Highland Garnet, also attended, as did the journalist Gertrude Mossell,
whose Philadelphia family could trace its activism and wealth to the
eighteenth century. The prime organizer for the event was Victoria Earle
Matthews of New York, whose White Rose Working Girls Home was a
predecessor of the Urban League.
The testimonial had all the earmarks of a grand occasion. Wells's pen
name, Iola, was spelled out in electric lights across the dais. The printed
programs were miniature prototypes of the Memphis Free Speech. Soul-
stirring music was interspersed with uplifting speeches. Five hundred
dollars was collected for the booklet, which Wells dedicated "To the Afro-
American women...whose race love, earnest zeal and unselfish effort made
possible this publication."
Wells was genuinely grateful for the support--if a little surprised by it,
especially since it was initiated in New York. The city, she knew, "had the
name of being cold-blooded and selfish in its refusal to be interested in
anybody or anything who was not to the manner born, whose parents were
not known, or who did not belong to their cir-
When and Where I Enter / 27
cle."27 The pistol-toting journalist was many things, but she was not "to
the manner born."
But as Wells's investigations had so vividly revealed, all Blacks, regardless
of class or achievement, were vulnerable. Also, the nature of Wells's cam-
paign had struck a particular chord in Black women, who had never been
thought of as a significant factor in the racial struggle, who remained un-
protected, and who were held responsible for the denigration forced upon
them. They well knew, as Wells stated publicly, that while Black men were
being accused of ravishing White women, "The rape of helpless Negro
gchirulsr,chw,hsitcahteboergparnesisn."s2l8avery days, still continues without reproof from
The negative images of Black women had always made them vulnerable
to sexual assault, but by the late nineteenth century, that stereotype had
even more sweeping consequences. Philip Bruce had included women in
his diatribe against the race. They, too, were "morally obtuse" and "openly
licentious," he wrote. But because they were women, their regression was
seen as much worse than that of men. For it was women who were "respons-
ible" for molding the institution of marriage and a wholesome family life
which was the "safeguard against promiscuity." In Bruce's eyes, Black
women who saw no "immorality in doing what nature prompts," who did
not "foster chastity" among their own daughters, were not only responsible
for their own denigration but for that of theentire race. Even the Black man's
alleged impulse to rape was the Black woman's fault. Historically, the ste-
reotype of the sexually potent Black male was largely based on that of the
promiscuous Black female. He would have to be potent, the thinking went,
to satisfy such hot-natured women. Now released from the constraints of
White masters, the Black man found White women so "alluring" and "se-
dhiuscotiwven"rbaeccea."u2s9e, according to Bruce, of the "wantonness of the women of
chWalleelnlsg'esdcapmrepsuaimgnp,tiboynsuonfdtehremiminminograthlietysotefrBeloatcykpwe oomf Benla.3c0kAmnedni,t
also was
the public defense of the integrity of Black women, by Black women, which
opened the way for the next stage of their political development. Black
women like those at Lyric Hall responded to Ida B. Wells's antilynching
campaign as not only a call to arms for the race, but for women specifically
as well.
The ideas that drew them into battle were older than the Republic it-
self--for they were rooted in the European minds that shaped America.
SOURCE NOTES Chapter I 1. Alfreda M. Duster, ed., Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1970, 1972), p. 51. 2. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women's Campaign Against Lynching (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), p. 132. 3. Dorothy Sterling, Black Foremothers, Three Lives (New York: The Feminist Press, 1979), p. 79. 4. Duster, op. cit., p. 52. 5. Ibid., p. 53. 6. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, On Lynchings (New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1969), p. 23. 7. Duster, op. cit., p. 9. 8. Ibid., p. 25. 9. Sterling, op. cit., p. 70. 10. Ibid., p. 77. 11. Ibid., p. 74. 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid., p. 79. 14. Gerda Lerner, ed., Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), p. 177. 15. Duster, op. cit., p. 70. 16. Florette Henri, Black Migration: Movement North, 1900­1920, The Road from Myth to Man (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1976), p. 33. 17. Herbert G. Gutman,The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750­1925 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976), p. 536. 18. Ibid., p. 537. 19. "Some Negro Views of the Negro Question," Harper's Weekly (June 18, 1904), p. 928. 20. Duster, op. cit., p. 72. 21. Ibid., p. 64. 22. Ibid. 23. Wells-Barnett, op. cit., p. 24. 24. Ibid., p. 4. 25. Sterling, op. cit., p. 82. 26. Duster, op. cit., p. 25. 27. Ibid., p. 78.
356 / Paula Giddings 28. Sterling, op. cit., p. 81. 29. Gutman, op. cit., p. 536. 30. Bettina Aptheker, "Woman Suffrage and the Crusade Against Lynching, 1890­1920" (paper delivered at conference, "Black Women: An Historical Perspective," sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women, Washington, D.C., November 12­13, 1979), p. 13. Chapter II 1. James C. Ballagh, A History of Slavery in Virginia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1902), p. 42. 2. Ronald T. Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), p. 12. 3. Ibid., p. 142. 4. Ibid., p. 12. 5. Barbara Welter, Dimity Convictions: The American Woman in the Nineteenth Century (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1976), p. 12. 6. Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550­1812 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1968), p. 35. 7. A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, The Colonial Period(New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 23. 8. Jordan, op. cit., p. 77. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. Higginbotham, op. cit., p. 43. 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid., p. 45. 14. John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans (New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1969), pp. 80­81. 15. Lorenzo Johnston Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England (New York: Atheneum, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1974), p. 154. 16. Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publishers, 1963), p. 145. 17. Sidney Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution: 1770­1800 (New York: New York Graphic Society, 1973), p. 216. 18. Willie Lee Rose, Slavery and Freedom (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 21. 19. Ibid., pp. 24­25. 20. Ann Firor Scott, The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830­1930 (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1970), p. 17. 21. Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1971), p. 33. 22. Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (New York and London: Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), p. 26. 23. Ibid. 24. Ibid., p. 27.

PJ Giddings

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