Ida B. Wells: “Lynch Law in America”

(1900)

Context

Organized white violence against African Americans has had a long history in the United States. Slavery involved systematic violence against blacks on many levels. During the era of slavery, nonslaveholding whites often belonged to “slave patrols” that were called out to track down fugitive slaves and put down slave revolts. Organized like militias, these patrols fostered white solidarity and maintained the institution of slavery through community action. Community participation in slave patrols was a precursor to the organized violence against blacks in the postslavery period.

At the same time, white mob violence was also common in northern cities, particularly in the form of antiabolitionist riots. Mobs that attacked abolitionists and broke up abolitionist meetings beginning in the 1830s often targeted blacks individually. It was not uncommon for northern whites to lynch or beat an innocent African American to death. One of the worst incidents of U.S. racial...

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Harper's Weekly illustration of lynching and its collaborators (Library of Congress)

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