Lynching is the practice whereby a mob, usually several dozen or several hundred persons takes the law into their own hands in order to injure and kill a person accused of some wrongdoing. The alleged offense can range from a serious crime like theft or murder to a mere violation of local customs and sensibilities. The issue of the victim’s guilt is usually secondary, since the mob serves as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Due process yields to momentary passions and expedient objectives.
The term “Lynch’s Law” apparently originated during the American Revolution when Charles Lynch, a Virginia justice of the peace, ordered extralegal punishment for American colonists who remained loyal to the British crown. In the South, members of the abolitionist movement or other people opposing slavery were often targets of lynch mob violence before the American Civil War.
In response to the injustices of lynching, the anti-lynching movement was established, a campaign in which women played a key role. Ida B. Wells, a black teacher and journalist was at the forefront and early development of this movement. In 1892 Wells was one of the first news reporters to bring the truths of lynching to proper media attention after three of her friends were lynched by a mob. She began writing articles against lynching. As a result, her controversial stance led to the destruction of her newspaper office. From thereafter, she continued her crusade at the New York Age as a staff writer. In addition to her journalist endeavors, she became a lecturer and organizer of anti-lynching societies throughout the United States.
In 1893, Wells took her anti-lynching campaign overseas. For two months Wells toured England, Scotland and Wales, giving speeches and meeting with leaders. Wells was impressed by the progressive activities and civic groups of British women. She wrote to her readers back home urging them to become more active in the affairs of their community, city and nation through organized civic clubs. While In England, Wells established the London Anti-Lynching Committee. Back home in the US, she continued her organizing efforts by establishing the first Negro women’s civic clubs in Chicago and Boston, and was influential in the formation of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. Also during this period, Wells was also becoming more active in the suffrage movement.
In 1913, she marched in a suffrage parade in Washington DC and met with President McKinley about a lynching in South Carolina.
Ida B. Wells died March 25, 1931. She left behind a legacy of activism, dedication and hope for change. Wells’ accomplishments are truly extraordinary given the time and social context in which they occurred. Wells traveled throughout the United States and Europe with her anti-lynching message, she wrote extensively throughout her life on the injustices faced by blacks, and she engaged in a never-ending effort to organize women and blacks. Toward the end of her life she became an ardent community activist, determined to change the path of poverty and crime in Chicago’s inner city. Wells work as a writer, social researcher, activist, and organizer, mark her as one of this century’s most dynamic and remarkable women.