IDA B. WELLS.
Her Reply to Gov. Northern and Others.
LONDON, Eng., June 23. — The seven weeks' agitation in this city against lynch law has waked up the south. Besides Gov. Northen's letter of general denial and request that the English people get their facts from a "reputable" source, the southern press has been very active along the same line. The Memphis Daily Commercial exceeds them all in the vigor, vulgarity and vileness of its attack, not upon lynching, but upon me personally. In its issue of May 26 it devoted nearly four columns to traduction of my personal character, in language more vulgar and obscene than anything the Police Gazette ever contained, and wound up all by giving space for the first time in its history, to an interview with a colored man. J. Thomas Turner, who claimed that "the respectable colored population of Memphis utterly repudiate Ida Wells and her statements." This is the only reply the Commercial can make touching the statements that three respectable colored men were lynched in cold blood in Memphis March 9,1802; that as the direct result of the Commercial's leader and the action of the leading citizens of Memphis, May 25, 1892, my newspaper business was destroyed , my business manager run out of town, and myself threatened with death should I ever return; that on July 22, 1803, a second lynching bee took place on the streets of Memphis with the full knowledge and connivance of the authorities; that the columns of the Commercial told how Lee Walker was hanged, half burned, and then half grown boys and men dragged his body up Main street and again hanged it before the court house, and that men, women and children stood by and saw the sight; that a telegram was sent from the office of the board of trade, ten hours previous to the lynching, apprising the Chicago Inter Ocean of the fact that the burning would take place and inviting that journal to send me down to write it up.
The Commercial has not disproved a single one of these statements; it cannot do so. It vainly imagined that a foul tirade against me, and the "repudiation of a negro sycophant who bent "the pliant hinges of the knee that thrift might follow fawning," would be a sufficient refutation of my narration of Memphis' terrible lynching record.
The editors of the Commercial have flooded England with copies of that issue, with more detriment to themselves than harm to me. The tone and style of that paper have shocked the English people far more than my own recital could do. It has given them an insight as to the low moral tone of a community that supports a journal which outrages all sense of public decency that no words of mine could have done. It has brought to the cause warmer friends and stronger supporters than perhaps it might have had.
Since the appearance of that paper in England the parliamentary breakfast was given me at the Westminster Palace hotel and the London anti-lynching committee has been formed. The object of this committee is to aid the ventilation and agitation of the subject, and bring all moral means to bear to assist America to put down lynch law. The Duke of Argyle, whose son is married to one of Queen Victoria's daughters, is a member of the committee. The editors of the Daily News, Echo, Chronicle and Westminster Gazette. Mr. Moncure D. Conway, Rev. C. F. Aked, Mrs. Helen Bright Clark, Miss Kate Ryley and Mr. Percy Banting, editor of the Contemporary Review, are also on the committee. Miss Florence Balgarnie is secretary.
The London papers would not touch the Commercial's articles with a pair of tongs. So far as I have been able to learn only one journal to which it was sent, the Liverpool Daily Post, has taken any notice of the Commercial's foul attack. In its issue of June 13 the Post says:
We have received copies of the Memphis Commercial of May 26, containing references to Miss Ida B. Wells and her mission. Both the articles are very coarse in tone, and some of the language is such as could not possibly be reproduced in an English journal. Moreover, if we were to convey an idea of things said we should not only infringe the libel law, but have every reason to believe that we would do a gross and grotesque injustice. Happily it is not necessary for us to consider the element in the Memphis Commercial's case to which we have just referred, because whatever that journal might prove against the champion of the colored race would fail altogether to justify the existence of lynch law.
The occurrence of lynching is freely admitted by the Memphis Commercial, and is attributed to certain abundant misdemeanors of the black race in the south. We are not encouraged by experience to attach great importance to the accusations of superior races; and we certainly have not been led to believe by history that the men of the southern states have always proved in their relations with the Negroes "the most chivalrous and gentle in the world." A civilized community does not need lynch law, and it is perfectly obvious that a country in which lynch lay is resorted to with the approval of public opinion and the concurrence of respectable citizens, as in the Commercial alleged, is one in which any crimes committed by the black race could be effectually dealt with by regular process of law. This is what has been demanded by the law large number of representative bodies in this country, which have passed resolutions against the practice of lynching in the southern states, and this is sufficient reason for their interposition, and the acknowledged existence of lynching is a sufficient justification of the resolutions that have been passed. All else is irrelevant, and we even include under this description a declaration quoted from a colored journalist named Thomas Turner.
It is idle for men to say that the conditions which Miss Wells' describes do not exist, when the Memphis Commercial admits the existence of lynching, which is the one material accusation of English journalists and English public meetings. Doubtless, it is true that many Negroes realize that the welfare of the colored race depends almost entirely upon amicable relations with the whites. Moreover, we can well believe "that the right thinking elements of the colored population do not believe that it is right to condone vice in members of their race or justify crimes committed by them." The colored editor asserts that Miss Wells has preached that kind of doctrine. It is absolutely certain that she has not preached that kind of doctrine in this country.
The writer of this editorial, Sir Edward Russell, is one of the leading editors in the kingdom and presided at my Liverpool meeting.
The Liverpool Weekly Review adds: "We have recounted the horrors and injustices common to the persecution of the blacks in their naked truth, gleaning them from other authorities than Miss Wells. They constitute a lamentable, sickening list, at once a disgrace and a degradation to nineteenth century sense and feeling. Whites of America may not think so; British Christianity does and happily, all the scurrility of the American press won't alter the fact."
It is particularly gratifying that denied any chance to get redress for these gross attacks on my good name at home, such powerful holders of public opinion on this side have come to my defense. I have sent a letter through out Great Britain in reply, of which the following is an excerpt:
This is the third time the Commercial has so honored me. When a Boston newspaper gave a ten-line leader in the occasion of my visit there, five months after my exile from Memphis, the Daily Commercial published a half column leader of the vilest abuse of the Boston people and myself. When I spoke in Scotland last year, and sent the Commercial a marked copy of the Aberdeen Daily Free Press containing an account of my address there, again the Commercial and other Memphis papers broke forth into foul language concerning me, and sent heavily marked copies to those places. Now as then, its only reply to my statements about lynching is not proof of their falsity, but detraction of me personally. This the Commercial can safely do. There is no court in the state in which the editor would be punished for these gross libels and so hardened is the southern public mind (white) that it does not object to the coarsest language and most obscene vulgarity in its leading journals so long as it is directed against the Negro.
No amount of abuse can alter the fact that three respectable colored men were taken out of jail and horribly shot to death in Memphis on March 9, 1892, for firing on white men in self-defense; that the Daily Commercial 's inflammatory leaders were greatly responsible for that lynching, and the authorities connived at it. Not even the Commercial ever charged these men with assaults on white women. The paper openly advised the lynching of the editor of Free Speech for protesting against mobs and the false charges brought against their Negro victims and to its utterances on that occasion owe the destruction of my newspaper and my exile form home.
All the vile epithets in the vocabulary or reckless statements cannot changes the lynched in different parts of the state of Tennessee fourteen Negroes, three were charged with "assaults on white women," one was lynched "on suspicion," one "by mistake" at Gleason, eight for "murder," and one, Charles Martin, near Memphis, no offense whatever. He failed to stop when ordered to do so by a mob which was hunting another Negro, and was shot dead in his tracks. One of the three men who were lynched for nameless crime was only charged with "attempted assault." He jumped in a wagon in which white girls were driving and frightened them. He was caught, put in jail, and the following was sent to the Inter Ocean ten hours before the lynching took place: "Lee Walker, colored man, accused of raping white women in jail here. Will be taken out and burned by whites tonight. Can you send Miss Ida B. Wells to write it up? Answer, R. M. Martin, with Public Ledger."
The Commercial and other dailies told in detail on July 23, 1893, how the mob took him from jail, kicked and cut his flesh with knives, hanged him to a telegraph pole, then placed his corpse on a fire, and men, women and boys stood by to see it burn, how these half grown boys dragged the half charred trunk up the street and, after playing a game of football with it, hanged it again in front of the courthouse, from whence the coroner cut it down, and found the usual verdict.
Even the Daily Commercial, which had previously incited mobs, protested against this lynching in these words: "Already the press and pulpit of Britain is thundering at us and Memphis has been held up to them as an illustration of barbarism and savagery, and such scenes as that of last night only tend to confirm such confirm." The editor went on to state that he had heard a young white youth under 17 boast that he had assisted at three "nigger" lynchings, and expected to take part in as many more. This in the Daily Commercial of July 23, 1893, after my first tour in England. The
The following is from a letter of mine published two weeks ago in the Inter Ocean:
"I see the Memphis Daily Commercial pays me the compliment of calling me a ‘Negro adventuress.’ If I am become an adventuress for simply stating facts, by what name must be characterized those who furnish these facts? However revolting these lynchings, I did not commit a single one of them, nor could the wildest effort of my imagination manufacture one to equal the reality. If the same zeal to excuse and conceal the facts were exercised to put a stop to these lynchings, there would be no need for me to relate, nor for the English people to give ear to these tales of barbarity. Yours, etc.,
IDA B. WELLS.
"Southport, June 14, 1894."
In the same way the other defenders of lynching in the south have been convicted by their own record. The ink was hardly dry on Gov. Northen's letter in the Daily Chronicle before the cable brought news of the tarring and feathering of an Englishman in Virginia by a mob, and the hanging and flaying alive of a Negro in Gov. Northen's own state of Georgia. But there has been no report that Gov. Northern has taken steps to punish the perpetrators of that terrible deed. The London Daily News, in a ringing leader anent that lynching, pointed out in its issue of June 15 that "the north has not done its duty by its proteges. It freed them and gave them the vote then failed to protect them in the exercise of their citizenship. Those states in which these terrible disorders are common, in which it seems an Englishman is not safe if he offends the mob, are appealing to the world for settlers and capital to develop their magnificent resources. So long as these outrages continue they will appeal in vain. The position of the great body of American people is one of direct responsibility. They are partners with these anarchic states in a great popular government which has, hitherto been the admiration and envy of the world. Do they intend to stand by in consenting silence while their flag is dishonored and their government and its institutions disgraced by outrages which bring on all concerned "In them the scorn and reprobation of mankind?" Surely with so strong and direct a challenge the American people will bestir themselves to find a remedy for this great wrong and outrage. The Review of Reviews for June prints a tabulated synopsis of the lynchings for 1893, and Mr. Stead tersely points out that every other day, except Sunday, last year, a Negro was lynched, and adds: "This is not civilization it is savagery."
The seven weeks of constant speaking, writing, etc., have forced me to take a rest, and I visited Cambridge University for my sight-seeing trip. The old historic college buildings, the green trees, and greener meadows were a restful picture, and the visit to Newnham college, the girls' annex, was greatly enjoyed because we had tea with Miss Helen Gladstone, daughter of England's grand old man, who is one of the lady principals of the college. My next privilege was to be the guest of the eldest daughter of John Bright, Mrs. Helen Bright Clark, in her charming home in Somerset. From there I went to Southport, down by the sea, for a visit to Mrs. Thomas Cropper Ryley, the wealthy widow of man whose name is well known in anti-slavery annals.
Mr. Ryley was one of the faithful few who stood at Harvey Ward Beecher's side in 1868, when the mob in Liverpool tried to prevent his being heard on an anti-slavery lecture. In 1866, when Mr. Ryley knew that a testimonial was being raised in the United States for Wm. Lloyd Garrison, he undertook the English contribution to that testimonial and collected and forwarded to Jas. Russell Lowell nearly $1,000. Mrs. Ryley and her daughters exhibit, among their most precious relics, autograph letters from both Mr. Lowell and Mr. Garrison acknowledging receipt of this money; also a copy of the Liberator. Having known and read of these brave anti-slavery workers it is so hard for the English people to believe that for the present emergency no Garrison, Lowell, Phillips, or Beecher responds to the call of duty to rouse the nation. The nation and the race needs somebody to say now as Garrison said in August, 1831, in that first copy of the Liberator: "I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard."
It is remarkable that those men, who were so hated and persecuted by their own people for taking up an unpopular cause, are the only Americans of that era whose names are known and revered on this side. It is also remarkable that the parents of every American one meets abroad were abolitionists. It is a passport to favor and consideration which money will not be give. Yet it is an especially galling thing to these "children of abolitionists" to meet the despised Negro wherever they turn and to be force to be civil with him. The cloven foot shows almost invariably in persons who were never before known to be guilty of a breach of good manners, when the Negro question is introduced. A member of parliament, who took a prominent part in the parliamentary breakfast given me, told me the other day that he dined out that same evening, and took an American lady in to dinner. She was the "daughter of an abolitionist," and is known to be a woman of culture, refinement and broad sympathies. Thinking he was sure of his ground he hoped to be able to enlist her sympathies in the Negro's cry for justice. He said he was astounded at the bitterness she displayed. "She defended lynching," said he, "and declared that under no circumstances would she eat at a table with a Negro." He added that he could see more clearly than ever how hard at was for us to be heard in America, if the offspring of the abolitionists were like that. All this seems passing strange to John Bull, because the Americans have always boasted of their free country, where there is no class distinction. This crusade is revolutionizing entirely the standard by which American leaders, moral and philanthropic, are being judged, and many of them will be called on to prove their professions by their work against wrong and outrage upon the Negro. Meanwhile the time draws on space when I shall cease to be a free human being with all their rights and privileges appertaining thereto, and become simply "a colored woman." I am returning to the United States, and in order to make sure I shall be insulted on route, I must avoid taking passage in a ship which is likely to have any considerate number of my countrymen or women as passengers.
IDA B. WELLS.