Southern Women and Lynching

Can’t sleep. Heady achey.

Found a brief history of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching by Jessie Daniel Ames called “Southern Women and Lynching.” In 1930, southern women met at a conference “to discuss what Southern women could do to stop lynching.” Ames suggests that some white women were inspired to take up the cause against lynching “by an increasing awareness . . . of the claim of lynchers and mobsters that their lawless acts were necessary to the protection of women.”

Here are some highlights:

Consideration of the crimes of which the victims had been charged brought further enlightenment. Less than 29% of these two hundred and eleven persons were charged with crimes against white women. Then, what, asked the women, had the 79% [should read 71%] done? Offenses of some kind against white men, they were told.

Furthermore in every lynching investigated, some attention had been paid to the mobs as well as to the victims and the crimes. Women were present in some numbers at every lynching and not infrequently they participated. Some of the women were mothers with young children. These children, members of a future generation of lynchers, were balanced precariously on parents’ shoulders in order to have a better view. Young boys and girls were contributing their numbers to the mobs both as spectators and as leaders.

. . .

After many questions and some debate the conference came to the unanimous decision that the first and most necessary move on the part of white women was to repudiate lynching in unmistakable language as a protection to Southern women. Unless this idea of chivalry could be destroyed, lynchers would continue to use the name of women as an excuse for their crimes and a protection for themselves.

. . .

First, all the resources of the Council of the Association were to be directed toward the development and promotion of educational programs against lynching, leaving the field of political action to other groups.Second, emphasis at all times was to be placed on the repudiation of the claim that lynching is necessary to the protection of white women.

According to Ames, after six years, membership in the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching had grown from twelve (12!) to over thirty-two thousand (32,000!). The group acted primarily through other groups they already belonged to–mostly churches. Local members were to keep the association informed of any lynchings that occurred and, “regardless of the nature of the crime allegedly committed by the victim of the mob, [to publicly condemn] the lynching, [and] request for a rigid investigation of the mob by state and county officials.” Furthermore, they urged local leaders, especially local sheriffs, to sign pledges against lynchings.

Ames closes by envisioning the end of lynchings:

The philosophy of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching is based on the belief that a continuous educational program, carried on day by day in the home, in the school, in the press, and in the church will end lynching by public demand.A year will come when Tuskegee Institute will report “NO LYNCHINGS DURING _____.” The actual year is the only thing about which Southern women are uncertain. But they believe that they will be able to name the year fairly accurately:

When a hundred thousand men and women pledge themselves in writing against lynching and agree to work against the crime publicly; When every sheriff in the South pledges to uphold his oath of office–to support the Constitution without fear of bodily harm–or When every sheriff of the South is pledged in writing to his constituents to prevent lynchings in his county; When every Grade A college in the South makes the discussion and study of lynchings a part of classroom assignments.

I think there’s work left to do. Having taught college English off and on for a decade, I think most folks in “Grade A colleges” feel too uncomfortable, too scared of the topic to approach it honestly and fully in a public discussion, and as long as we are unable to have a civil discussion, we guarantee for ourselves future problems. I think we fear that to talk about these things at all will bring about instantaneous racial conflict. Is civility between the races (how quaint and backwards that sounds), then, so superficial that it requires for its continuance a mutual pretense that history doesn’t exist? Well, some progress that is.

“We who?” I find myself asking myself. I know that discussions are happening publicly, but I’m not sure how willing undergraduate college students (and their instructors) are to have these conversations in the classroom, and I do think that’s problematic.

I’ll connect this to Harry Reid, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the ladies of the View another day. Man, somebody needs to write a paper about the ladies of the View. And maybe connect it to the Daily Show. I think the thesis would be something like pop culture holding official culture account, which, since it’s not a complete clause, is a pretty shitty thesis. Did I mention I’m head-achey and can’t sleep?


One thought on “Southern Women and Lynching

  1. Pingback: Tuesday, March 16 « Difficult History

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