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(1909) Ida B. Wells, “Lynching Our National Crime”

By 1909 Ida B. Wells was the most prominent anti-lynching campaigner in the United States.  From the early 1890s she labored mostly alone in her effort to raise the nation’s awareness and indignation about these usually unpunished murders.  In 1909, however, she gained a powerful ally in the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  The following speech was delivered by Wells at the National Negro Conference, the forerunner to the NAACP, in New York City on May 31-June 1, 1909. 

The lynching record for a quarter of a century merits the thoughtful study of the American people. It presents three salient facts: First, lynching is color-line murder. Second, crimes against women is the excuse, not the cause. Third, it is a national crime and requires a national remedy. Proof that lynching follows the color line is to be found in the statistics which have been kept for the past twenty-five years. During the few years preceding this period and while frontier law existed, the executions showed a majority of white victims. Later, however, as law courts and authorized judiciary extended into the far West, lynch law rapidly abated, and its white victims became few and far between.  Just as the lynch-law regime came to a close in the West, a new mob movement started in the South.

This was wholly political, its purpose being to suppress the colored vote by intimidation and murder. Thousands of assassins banded together under the name of Ku Klux Klans, “Midnight Raiders,” “Knights of the Golden Circle,” et cetera, et cetera, spread a reign of terror, by beating, shooting and killing colored in a few years, the purpose was accomplished, and the black vote was supressed. But mob murder continued. From 1882, in which year fifty-two were lynched, down to the present, lynching has been along the color line. Mob murder increased yearly until in 1892 more than two hundred victims were lynched and statistics show tht 3,284 men, women and children have been put to death in this quarter of a

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