Ida B. Wells: “Lynch Law in America”

(1900)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

In “Lynch Law in America,” Wells-Barnett declares that lynching has become a national crime to which all sections of the country have contributed and must bear responsibility. She begins the article by discussing the origin and evolution of lynching in the United States and the transformation of the practice into a tool of racist terror in the South. She describes the current situation with respect to the widespread incidents of lynching and the various excuses offered for it. Finally, she urges Americans to take action against the crime of lynching.

Lynching, according to Wells-Barnett, began in the far West, where settlers had no access to courts or the legal system. She refers to the communal justice of the frontier as following the “unwritten law.” This custom, as she describes it, was harsh and severe and usually resulted in immediate hanging from the nearest tree. Facing hardships of a rough existence, there was little time to...

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

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