Southern Horrors | Study Guide

Ida B. Wells

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Southern Horrors | Quotes


Nobody in this section of the country believes the old threadbare lie that Negro men rape white women.

Ida B. Wells

The author goes on to say that Southern white men tell lies about alleged rapes of white women. If this continues, the public may see through these lies, which will reflect badly on the moral reputation of white women. She means that the public will have to face the fact that white women are having consensual sex with black partners. This assertion made in the author's editorial in Free Speech so enraged members of the community that a lynch mob came for the people who ran the paper.


Many white women in the South ... would marry colored men if such an act would not place them ... beyond the pale of society.

Ida B. Wells

The author makes this incendiary statement as a follow-up to her assertion that black men are not raping white women. This is despite the fact that many have been lynched for this offense. She proves her statement by citing several cases in which it came to light that white women had entered into secret liaisons with black men. Some women later disavowed these liaisons, even accusing the men in question of rape. Some attempted to protect their lovers from the wrath of society.


The dispatches also told of a woman ... who gave birth to a Negro child and charged three men with being the father.

Ida B. Wells

The author explains that after the woman claimed three separate men as the father of her child, all three disappeared, presumably killed by a lynch mob. The implication is that the lynch mob did not care much who the father actually was. The members only wanted their fury appeased because an African American man had been sexually intimate with a white woman. Wells notes that white men "wreak their vengeance" on black men who dare to cross the color line.


Religion, science, law and political power may be employed to excuse injustice, barbarity and crime done to [black people].

Ida B. Wells

A black man was burned to death for raping a white woman who was actually his lover. The woman had been coerced into accusing him of rape. Wells outlines other facts of the case. She notes that the "so-called race question" is more like an inquiry into how cultural and political institutions perpetrate violence and injustice against people of color.


A white man ... inflicted such injuries upon another Afro-American child that she died.

Ida B. Wells

The author juxtaposes instances of white rape of black female children and women with the torturous death of a black man accused of raping a white woman. He was dragged through the streets and cut to pieces with knives. Meanwhile, the white man who raped and killed a child was not punished. Wells wants the reader to clearly understand the differential treatment of blacks and whites by the so-called justice system.


The South resented giving the Afro-American his freedom, the ballot box and Civil Rights Law.

Ida B. Wells

The author makes this statement in the context of explaining the real reason for widespread lynching. Contrary to popular belief, mob justice is not the outgrowth of a populace that wishes to punish the heinous crime of rape. Rather, it is a method of terrorism used to keep the black population subjugated. The South did not willingly give African Americans their rights. After the Civil War, most Southerners did their best to restore the previous race relations under slavery.


Only one-third of the 728 victims to mobs have been charged with rape.

Ida B. Wells

The author provides this statistic reported in the Chicago Tribune, which is for part of the year of 1892. She makes a point of noting that only a third had been charged with rape. Many of these men were likely innocent in Wells's view. Most of the lynchings were triggered by circumstances other than alleged rape. This fact proves, in her view, that mob justice has little to do with the honor of Southern women.


They do not see that by their tacit encouragement ... the black shadow of lawlessness ... is spreading it wings over the whole country.

Ida B. Wells

The author makes this statement after explaining how a black man accused of rape was lynched. He was lynched even though the white girl in question said her attacker was a white man. The girl was never allowed to testify in court. The town fathers claimed they wanted to spare her "the mortification of having to testify in court." The so-called Christians of the South lack the moral courage to stand up against lawlessness, says Wells, which is spreading to other parts of the country.


Even to the better class of Afro-Americans the crime of rape is so revolting they have too often taken the white man's word.

Ida B. Wells

The author explains how African Americans who are upwardly mobile have been co-opted by a racist system. They too find the crime of rape heinous. They do not speak out against the injustice of lynching, lest people think they do not take the violation of women seriously enough.


They ... realize how hopelessly their race is behind the other ... and they attempt to "get even" by insolence, which is ever the resentment of inferiors.

Memphis Evening Scimitar

The author wishes to prove that "lynch law" is not for the purpose of protecting white female honor, but rather for the purpose of subjugating black people. To this end she quotes a virulently racist editorial from a local white newspaper. The editorial argues that black people are insolent toward white people because they are jealous of their superiority. The writer of the editorial blames black people for the friction between the races. The writer goes on to accuse black people of singling out whites and committing acts of violence on them.


Nothing ... has so impressed me with the decay of manhood among the people of Tennessee as the dastardly submission to mob reign.

Colonel A.S. Colyar

Colyar's letter to the Nashville American shows that a minority of white people have spoken out against lynching. Colyar understands there is nothing manly about putting a person to death under cover of a crowd. A member of a mob can avoid personal responsibility for an evil deed. Colyar notes that lynching is happening all over the country. He is appalled that these acts are often carried out with much cruelty. They also often occur in the presence of sheriffs and deputies, court officials, and governors.


The men and women in the South who disapprove of lynching and remain silent on the perpetration of such outrages are ... accomplices.

Ida B. Wells

The author argues that not to protest lynching or try to stop it amounts to a crime, or what the law calls an accessory before and after the fact. This is because bystanders are aware of this widespread problem yet do nothing. When another lynching occurs, they do nothing. The author says bystanders are equally guilty because if they were willing to step up, the killing would stop. The killings continue because the killers know they can act with impunity.


The world looks on with wonder that we have conceded so much and remain law-abiding under such great outrage and provocation.

Ida B. Wells

The author makes this comment at the beginning of her section on self-help for African Americans who are the victims of institutional and social racism. She has just outlined the widespread mob rule that has become the norm in the South. Through mob rule, black people are routinely lynched without due process, mostly for minor or imaginary crimes. Lynching is done without due process (a trial, an impartial jury of peers) outside the bounds of the legal system. Indeed, it is amazing that African Americans have not rebelled more virulently against such systemic, unfair treatment.


White men passed the law, and white judges and juries would pass upon the suits against the law, and render judgment in line with their prejudices.

Ida B. Wells

The author makes this comment in the context of urging boycotts that hit white businessmen in their pockets. Without that kind of prodding to protest segregation laws, little will change. The white people who want to subordinate black people passed these Jim Crow laws. The same type of people would rule on court actions brought against these laws and would judge a court case according to their racial prejudices.


A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, [to be] used for that protection which the law refuses to give.

Ida B. Wells

The author makes this statement as the last point in her self-help advice for African Americans. She says this because she does not trust law enforcement officials to protect the rights of African Americans. She has seen ample evidence to prove her assumption. Therefore, black Americans must do what they can to protect themselves against unprovoked aggression from white people.

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