Lynching: A Southern View

[The author of this article is a native of North Carolina, and has been for several years editor of the Raleigh Progressive Farmer. — THE EDITORS.]

THAT lynching is an evil is denied by no one. Even Mr. John Temple Graves, who defended it in his recent Chautauqua address, had to admit that it is demoralizing and criminal, and that its logical consummation is anarchy. The savage, we know, punishes by the mob or by personal vengeance, while “ it is the first law of the social order that no man shall be the judge in his own cause,” that the government alone shall have the right to fix penalties and punish criminals, and that each citizen shall uphold the majesty of the law and swear allegiance to the courts of justice. This is the basis of all order; on this depends the safety of life and property. And such unity obtains in our governmental fabric that we cannot disturb this fundamental principle in any manner without endangering the entire structure. If one pillar totters, all the pillars will totter. To protect anarchy at one point is to spread anarchy to all points. We cannot encourage a hundred men to disregard law without encouraging the individual to disregard law; we cannot encourage law-breaking to gratify vengeance without encouraging law-breaking to gratify hate or greed or lust. The mob spirit breeds disrespect for all law.

For yet other reasons is lynching to be dreaded and deplored. It threatens justice and engenders unrest. Our judges, as a class, are men of high character and ability, and our juries are composed of fair-minded and intelligent men. But the mob may be recruited from the worst element of the community, men of bad character and low intelligence ; its members may even have private grudges against the alleged criminal. The court, too, acts in the open, seen and scrutinized by all; the judge and the jurymen are known, and they know that their reputations will be injured if they act carelessly or unrighteously. But the mob has no such incentive to right action. It hides itself in the dark ; it shrinks from the gaze of men ; its members are not known to their fellow citizens ; the fear of incurring individual condemnation does not restrain them from injustice. Moreover, the court considers evidence calmly and carefully. “ If this man is guilty, let him be punished ; if he is not guilty, let the real criminal be sought out and dealt with.” But the mob works in the heat of passion and in great haste. Too often it hangs the man on incomplete circumstantial evidence, hangs the wrong man. But that ends the matter; there is no further investigation, and the guilty man goes free, —perhaps to repeat his crime. These are a few of the many dangers of mob law.

Hurtful and vicious as is the lynching evil, we have in the South another evil that is not less dark and diabolical. For every negro who is disturbed by fear of the mob, a hundred white women are haunted by the nameless dread. These are the twin perils that menace Southern peace, — twin perils, I say, for there is a vital connection between them. To say that men are lynched for other crimes than that against white women, and that therefore lynching cannot be attributed to it, is to be more plausible than accurate. It is with this crime that lynching begins ; here and here only could the furious mob spirit break through the resisting wall of law and order. Once through, it does not stop. But it is only because lynching for rape is excused that lynching for any other crime is ever attempted. If there were no lustful brutes to deal with, it would be easy to develop a public sentiment that would make any form of lynching impossible.

There are, therefore, two ways of attacking the mob spirit. We may (1) assail lynching directly, or we may (2) seek to destroy the crime which nourishes and sustains it. Both direct and indirect methods, as I shall try to show in this paper, ought to be employed.


Heretofore we have attacked mob law only in the most direct of direct ways. We have passed laws breathing out threatening:, and slaughter against lynchers, only to find that it is useless to have an anti-lynching law on our statute books until the people have an anti-lynching law in their hearts and consciences. In the eyes of the court every man who kills without warrant of law — whether or not the victim be accused of crime — is a murderer. In North Carolina this principle was supplemented more than a decade ago by a special statute making it a felony to break into a jail for the purpose of lynching a prisoner. Judges have charged juries against the crime, and Governor Aycock — risking his political fortunes for his convictions — recently offered a reward of $400 each for the conviction of a party of seventy-five who lynched a negro near Salisbury. But never yet has the law punished a North Carolina lyncher.

We may as well admit, therefore, that this plan of action, unless supplemented by other measures, is a failure. When the flock is threatened, it is wiser to unloose the dogs than try to bind the wolves. When law is threatened, it is better to unfetter the courts than to try to fetter the mob. And the courts are fettered.

That the law at present is lacking in efficiency is not an idle assertion, a mere excuse of the bloodthirsty. It is not an unsupported supposition of editors and politicians, and of people not versed in legal lore. It is the testimony of men who know whereof they speak. One of the finest and gentlest men I know, an old-school Southern lawyer whose tenderness is such that he will not prosecute a man for his life, said to me two years ago that with our peremptory challenges, habeas corpus proceedings, writs of error, changes of venue, exceptions, appeals, new trials, respites, pardons, etc., our lawmakers have labored so assiduously to protect the accused prisoner that they have become unjust to the accusing public. “ Our civilization has gone too far in these matters,” says the Georgia Bar Association, “ and has overdone itself.” “ Enough has been done for those who murder,” says one Chief Justice ; “it is time the courts were doing something for those who do not wish to be murdered.” And Justice Brewer of our United States Supreme Court, who speaks from wide experience and lifelong observation, said to the law class of Yale College a few months ago : —

“ It has seemed to me at times that legislation was conceived in the spirit of obstruction to the punishment of criminals. To obstruct the administration of justice, the writ of habeas corpus, writs of error, and pleas for stays of proceedings have been resorted to by many lawyers, and, last of all, often and often stand tender-hearted executives to interpose clemency. It is not to be wondered at that some communities have arisen in their wrath and have inflicted the summary punishment that machinery of the law has delayed, and which they feared it might delay among them, too.”

It may he claimed — and I know lawyers who do claim — that such expressions as these have themselves encouraged the mob spirit. But the mob gets ten times as much strength from the fact as from the publication of the fact; the danger is, not that the weakness is charged, but that it exists. Loyalty to law demands that we condemn lack of reverence for it, whatever its imperfections ; but loyalty demands no less surely that we remove these imperfections that irreverence may be more readily destroyed.

Taking first things first, let us consider the matter of peremptory challenges of venire men. In most states the disparity between the number allowed the defendant and the number allowed the state is much too great. In this we have a survival of that early period of judicial history when the man accused of a capital offense was not allowed compulsory process to summon witnesses in his behalf, was without counsel to speak for him, and was supposed to be discriminated against by the officers of the law who selected the prospective jurymen. To protect the prisoner in the face of these unfair conditions, he was given much the larger number of challenges, — an advantage which he still largely retains, in spite of the fact that the defense is now on an equal footing with the prosecution. “ The policy of those states which discriminate against the prosecution in this particular,” says one of our best-known American authorities (Thompson and Merriam on Juries), “ is not apparent. The government certainly has the same right to an impartial jury as an accused person has, and, it would seem, ought to be possessed of equal facilities for procuring it.”

The latest statistics which I have been able to obtain, however, show that in the trial of prisoners for capital crimes only seven of the United States (New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Connecticut, and Rhode Island) have these “ equal facilities for procuring an impartial jury.” Three hundred peremptory challenges for the prosecution to six hundred and fifty for the defendant is about the aggregate for the several states. Massachusetts is unique in that it allows a greater number to the government than to the prisoner, — twenty-two to twenty. On the other hand, twenty for the defendant and two for the state is the rule in South Carolina, whose population is said to have furnished the largest number of murders last year, and the smallest proportion of legal hangings. In North Carolina the defendant has twenty-three peremptory challenges, the state four; and Chief Justice Clark in a recent opinion referred to this disparity and the consequent weakening of the law as one reason for the increase of crime and lynching. “ It is only necessary,” he says, “ for the defendant to 4 run ’ for one man on the panel who is friendly to him, for if he can secure that man by the rejection of twenty-three others, besides those stood aside for cause, he has defeated the unanimous verdict which is requisite for conviction.”

A case in point has just been brought to light in the writer’s own city. In the trial of a man of wealth, charged with murder, it transpired that he had employed agents in each township to take a census of the men subject to jury duty and ascertain who were friendly to him and who hostile, who inclined to be friendly and who inclined to be hostile, — thus enabling him to use his larger number of challenges in a manner manifestly inimical to the interests of justice.

Clearly, therefore, to take away this unfair advantage given the criminal is one of the imperative tasks confronting those who would stay the mob spirit. It will make for surer punishment of criminals. But we must also have speedier trials. “ Crime and punishment grow out of one stem,” says Emerson ; but the only way to teach the ignorant classes the logical connection between the two is to inflict the punishment while public interest is still fixed on the crime. Moreover, speed is required because punishment is sure only when it is speedy. The indignation and abhorrence which wrong-doing always excites effervesce too quickly. Let an unruly child induce its parents to postpone punishment for a week or a month, and the offense will be punished inadequately or not at all. At first the voice of our brother’s blood may cry to us from the ground, but the voice grows weaker and weaker as time goes on. The legal principle, an eye for an eye and a life for a life, can be enforced only when there is a vivid realization of the victim’s loss. As this becomes dimmer, the punishment of the criminal seems more and more like a new and useless effusion of blood. Thus “ the law’s delay,” regarded even in Hamlet’s day as one of life’s grievous evils, is still a force for evil.

Of remedies, the most notable yet proposed is that advocated by Justice David J. Brewer. In cases of capital crime he would have the nearest judge convene court as early as possible for the trial of the accused. He would abolish appeals in all criminal cases, but would allow the prisoner to submit at once to the Supreme Court a stenographic report of the evidence, — a new trial to be granted should the court reach the conclusion that the wrong man had been convicted, but never for mere violation of legal technicalities. We may not wish to go so far, but the fact that a member of our highest court suggests such a remedy for the weakness of the judiciary and the spread of lawlessness is enough to convince all of the need of genuine reform. For example, it is stated on high authority that “ not a single public official charged with wrong-doing in New York within the last fifteen years has actually received legal punishment. Many have been indicted; a number have been convicted and sentenced, but some higher court has interfered in every case, always on the ground of a flaw in the indictment or some other purely technical defect, and never on the relative merits of the question at issue.” One inexcusable fault was pointed out by a Southern bar association some time ago in a resolution which declared that new trials should not be granted on account of error “ unless it appear to the satisfaction of the appellate court that such error probably and reasonably affected the result adversely to the appealing party.” The mere statement of such a condition is argument enough for a change. Let us not blame the criminal lawyer for using these opportunities for delay ; let us blame ourselves for permitting them to exist.

The pardoning power ought also to be hedged about with greater restrictions. That it has been often abused there can be no doubt. A false idea of mercy has led many of our governors to do farreaching harm to society. Where mercy can be given the criminal without injustice to the public, the pardoning power should be exercised. But often, to pardon means to lessen the criminal’s fear of law, to weaken the citizen’s confidence in it, and to strengthen the mob spirit among all classes. In such cases it is better to be merciful to a thousand lawabiding citizens than to one man whom the courts have pronounced guilty of crime. It would probably be well to restrict pardons and commutations — at least for those crimes of which the extreme penalty is death — to those recommended by the judge or solicitor of the court which tried the prisoner.

These are some of the changes needed in our general legal machinery. But we shall have to recognize the fact that the one crime which oftenest provokes lynching is a peculiar one and demands peculiar treatment. Whatever we may do in murder cases, in dealing with rape we shall have to adopt Judge Brewer’s plan in its entirety.

Moreover, the Universal Peace Union and a number of prominent periodicals have recently suggested tbe unsexing of criminals of this class. In the South, at least, where the peril is most imminent, nothing less than death will ever be regarded as sufficient punishment. Imprisonment, however, is our only penalty for assault with intent, and for this crime the surgeon’s remedy would doubtless prove more effective as a deterrent, while as a protection to society against the repetition of the offense it would be absolute. The Wilmington, Delaware, negro who was lynched last spring had once been in prison for attempted assault. Set free with the same lustful mania, a wolf in human form, he brought death to himself and to a pure-hearted victim, and shame to a great state. The law should effectively protect the public against the degenerate whose uncontrollable passion has once led him to threaten our women ; if it will not, the mob will. The proposed legal remedy may be objected to as a reversion to barbaric custom, but, as Collier’s Weekly observes, “ no precedent for maiming as a general practice could be established in these days.” And I repeat that we must recognize the fact that we have a peculiar crime, to be dealt with in a peculiar manner.

We should also take notice of the fact that lynching is often condoned because of the humiliation the wronged woman must endure in appearing against the prisoner in open court. As for the timeworn suggestion that the affidavit of the woman be accepted as sufficient, this is effectually barred by the Sixth Amendment to our national Constitution, which guarantees the right of the criminal to be “ confronted by the witnesses against him.” But the judge has power to keep the defendant’s counsel within the bounds of decency and courtesy, even if the danger of outraging public sentiment were not alone enough to insure this. In a case of this kind a short time ago a Southern judge excluded all women and all boys under sixteen from the court house. He then requested that all “ gentlemen ” who were mere onlookers leave the room, and the majority left. Such methods as these might be more generally adopted. Better still, the law might empower judges in such cases to clear the room of all idle spectators. I believe it is generally admitted that this would not infringe upon the constitutional rights of the defendant.

“ The establishment of greater confidence in the summary and certain punishment of the criminal,” — this is Judge Brewer’s remedy for lynching, and the changes we have considered will do much to bring it about. It will remove the cause of most lynchings that are regarded as excusable, and will uncloak the inexcusable ones. For there are inexcusable, utterly inexcusable lynchings. The mob is not always actuated by fear of a guilty man’s escape. Sometimes the ruling passion is only a savage, diabolical bloodthirstiness. Sometimes it is sheer and fiendish bullyism tormenting the weak and defenseless. Sometimes it is the mob leader’s desire for personal vengeance, — murderous hate doing its work in the name of justice. But these criminals find refuge in the same defense which shields those who are impelled by an honest (however mistaken) desire to protect the sanctity of their homes, — the inefficiency of the law. We must deprive them of this protection and expose them to the penalties they deserve. Remove the legal shortcomings that cause law-loving men to condone lynching, and the lawless can no longer practice it with impunity. Excepting possibly for the most heinous crimes and in communities where the white population is entirely outnumbered by negroes of the lowest type, lynching can then be made odious and punishable (as it should be).

For our warfare on mob law will not be complete without a stringent, but flexible and enforcible anti-lynching law. First of all, the law must recognize the fact that the average lyncher, criminal as he is, does not deserve the punishment given for capital crime, and that to refuse to recognize lynching as anything but murder is equivalent to refusing to recognize it as a crime at all ; for it cannot be punished as murder. There should be a wide range of penalties, beginning with a fine and brief imprisonment for the man who joins a mob, prompted only by a desire to punish crime, and ending with death for the possible enormity of using the mob to kill a personal enemy. If only a three months’ term in jail stared every lyncher in the face, only the sternest sense of duty or the strongest of passions would cause men to take the law into their own hands. And not only should lynchers be punished, but all officers who tamely surrender prisoners to the fury of the mob ought to be severely dealt with.

Finally, good men everywhere must preach in season and out of season the sanctity of law and the peril of lawlessness. We must excuse lynching under no conditions, for as certainly as a fire, fanned to a fury in one room, will sweep on to other rooms, so certainly will the mob, if generally encouraged to punish one crime, sweep irresistibly on to supplant the court at all points. Instead of excusing it where the crime is horrible and the guilt of the criminal undoubted, we must teach that in such cases mob law is the more indefensible — because of the increased certainty and speed of legal punishment.

It is not the criminal’s rights, but the court’s rights, that we need to emphasize. In his heart of hearts every man must say with the lynchers that the rapist is a brute who has forfeited all human rights. But the law that we have set up in God’s name, and in the name of all the people, — this has the highest and noblest of rights, and it is the law’s right to try the criminal, not the criminal’s right to a lawful trial, that is violated whenever and wherever an irresponsible minority usurps the powers which the whole people have vested in our courts of justice. We need to teach that, if Satan himself should commit a crime, we should try him in legal form, — not for Satan’s sake, but for the sake of law and order and civilization ; not that he would have the right to a court trial, but that our courts alone would have the right to try him ; and that trial by any other body is, and will ever be, usurpation and minority rule. — un-American, undemocratic, and unendurable.


So much for the direct ways of attacking the mob spirit. With these improvements in our judicial system, I believe that lynching for any other crime than that against white women can be stopped within a reasonable period of time, and that lynching for this offense can be materially and steadily diminished. For this crime, however, the less intelligent classes will long regard the mob as the rightful executioner; and it is by this crime, and this only, that the lynching evil can be kept alive in the South. It is not without reason, therefore, that so much of this paper is devoted to a discussion of how to stop the offense which, under existing conditions, will continue to provoke outbreaks of mob violence, and which, even with a perfect law, would mightily stir the passions of the people.

There are two ways of working to this end. We should (1) endeavor to put such safeguards about those exposed to the crime as to make its commission less frequent, and (2) endeavor to destroy the spirit of savagery and backwardness of which this offense is but one of many evidences.

The first consideration of those who seek direct methods of preventing the crime is to provide better protection to residents of isolated country districts. Of course, the progress of civilization is itself contributing to the solution of this problem. As population becomes denser and the people get into closer touch with one another by means of good roads, the criminal’s chances of escape correspondingly decrease, and crime dies when the hope of escape dies. The rural telephone system, where it has been introduced, is also a notable deterrent, for, as a correspondent in another county has just reminded me, 44 no sane man is likely to commit a heinous crime in a community where a network of wires makes it easy to put the entire neighborhood immediately on the alert.”

But as yet these agencies are not widespread, and for some years to come we must depend on other remedies. In the first place, the vagrancy laws should be more strictly enforced. and the public should be continually on guard against the reckless, roving element of blacks from which the criminal class is chiefly recruited. The rural districts should also have better police protection. A member of the Georgia Legislature last winter presented a bill for a rural police patrol, — mounted patrolmen to guard country residents against tramps and criminals in much the same way that the “ patty-rollers ” of the Uncle Remus stories guarded the people against vicious or runaway slaves. This bill of Mr. Blackburn’s attracted much attention and much favorable comment, and I shall not be surprised to find the idea generally adopted by Southern Legislatures within the next ten years.

And now we come to the deeper and profounder problem, — that of dealing with the spirit back of the crime, the spirit of degradation and animalism of which the rapist is the most horrible product. It is the old story of the white man’s burden. And we have the old message so often repeated by the late Dr. J. L. M. Curry: “We must lift these people up or they will drag us down.”

Fraught with much meaning is the fact that the crime against white women was practically unknown in slavery ; that not one of the hundreds of graduates who have gone out from Hampton and Tuskegee has ever been guilty of it; and that of those who commit this crime to-day few are able to read, have steady employment, or own homes. Ignorance, idleness, thriftlessness, — out of these does crime come, and against these must our warfare be waged if we would destroy the spirit that breeds crime. The discipline of steady labor is a wonderful restraint on the passions, and the fact that women were not attacked by even the lowest negroes in slavery must be chiefly attributed to this. Of the negro prisoners in 1890 (the 1900 census figures on crime are not yet available), less than one tenth had trades, and less than two fifths were able to read and write.

I look then to right industrial, educational, and religious training as our chief safeguard against negro crime. Only a few weeks ago a friend of the writer’s reported this illustration : “ Last year I spent some time on one of the islands off the Georgia coast where the negroes when emancipated were as depraved as anywhere in the South. They even offered libations to the moon. But into that mass of ignorant blacks two good teachers went, and set about uplifting the people, morally, industrially, intellectually. When I was there last summer the Southern lady with whom I stopped went with her young daughter on a night trip of five miles across the island, and without a thought of danger.”

But do the general, nation-wide results indicate that education is helpful ? It has often been claimed that they do not. And in proof we have the oft-repeated charge that the percentage of literacy among negro criminals in 1890 was higher than that for the total negro population, — in other words, that the literate negroes furnished a larger proportion of prisoners than the illiterate. This statement was made in an address before the National Prison Association in 1897. It was printed in one of our foremost magazines, the North American Review, in June, 1900. It was repeated by a governor of Georgia in a public message. A Mississippi preacher has sent it broadcast over the South, and it was doubtless used in the recent campaign in that state. Scores of papers have copied it. Even now a Southern daily which I have just received has a two-column argument against negro education, based on the alleged census figures. “ To school the negro,” says the writer, “is to increase his criminality. Official statistics do not lie, and they tell us that the negroes who can read and write are more criminal than the illiterate. In New England, where they are best educated, they are four and a half times as criminal as in the Black Belt, where they are most ignorant. The more money for negro education, the more negro crime. This is the unmistakable showing of the United States Census.”

That such statements as these have thus far gone unchallenged should indeed excite our special wonder. It was only a desire to get the exact figures that led me to discover their falsity. The truth is, that of the negro prisoners in 1890 only 38.88 per cent were able to read and write, while of the total negro population 42.90 per cent were able to read and write.1 And in every division of the country save one (and that with only a handful of negro criminals) the prisons testified that the literate negroes were less lawless than the illiterate. To make the matter plain, the following figures have been prepared by the United States Bureau of Education. They show the number of criminals furnished by each 100,000 colored literates, and the number furnished by each 100,000 colored illiterates, according to the Census of 1890 : —


Section. Literates. Illiterates.
North Atlantic Division 828 1174
South Atlantic Division 320 426
South Central Division 317 498
North Central Division 807 820
Western Division 542 518

When we consider that there were only 258 negro prisoners in all the Western Division (out of the 24,277 in the Union), the mere accident that, of these few, seven more than the exact proportion came from the literate element loses all significance ; the test is on a scale too small for general conclusions. Summing up, it appears that of our total colored population in 1890 each 100,000 illiterates furnished 489 criminals, and each 100,000 literates only 413 criminals. Even more striking testimony comes from the North Carolina State’s Prison situated in the writer’s own city. In the two years during which it has kept a record, the proportion of negro criminals from the illiterate class has been forty per cent larger than from the class which has had school training.

It is plain, therefore, that even with the pitifully foolish and inefficient methods which have obtained heretofore, the schooling the negro has had has been helpful and not harmful. But we must adopt a wiser policy. Industrial education, as exemplified in Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes, strikes directly at the evils which foster crime; and to breathe the spirit of these institutions into the general public school system of the race is the imperative and immediate duty of those who have the matter in charge. To delay in this means danger. It is the impotence and ineptness of the old systems that have brought people to doubt the wisdom of all negro education. A direct result is the triumph of Governor-elect Vardaman of Mississippi, on the platform, “ No white taxes to teach negroes.”

But even if the negro’s schools were not to be improved and rationalized, to adopt the Vardaman policy would be disastrous. It means either that we are to abandon the black man to animalism, and honeycomb the South with African savagery, or that we are to surrender his education to incensed leaders and fanatical theorists, —and from their sowing of dragons’ teeth we have had harvest enough. The present prevalence of negro crime is probably due in some measure to unwholesome notions of social equality and intermarriage that they have inculcated, — the natural, elemental passion to breed upward, to mate with a higher order, called forth in violent form. How much worse would be the condition if the teaching of millions of negro children were entirely surrendered to this class! We must abandon the errors in our educational work, but not the work itself.

And not only must we use the schools to guide the young negroes into right paths, but to stay the spread of crime there must be greater coöperation between the religious leaders of the whites and the religious leaders of the blacks. The strongest religious denomination in the South will make a step in this direction at its next general convention. As a factor in actual life negro religion now counts for almost nothing, and the moral instruction of the young is probably inferior to that given by the slaveholders of the Upper South. Hysterical preaching is more popular than Biblical teaching. A typical illustration has just come to my notice. An intelligent, educated negro pastor had been laboring earnestly with his congregation, trying to raise their morals and give them worthier ideals. He went away for a week, and found on his return that he had been supplanted. An old-time “mourner” preacher, appealing only to the emotions, had captivated the membership by making everybody “ happy.” Writing of this problem in a recent Hampton Institute publication, Frances A. Kellor says : “ The religious life of the negro to-day, with its mysticism, superstition, and excesses, in some cases predisposes to crime. It accentuates an excess of emotion, which condition is traced in many criminal cases.” And yet we are sending missionaries thousands of miles to Africa while the Africa at our own doors goes neglected.

The white people of the South should do their full duty in providing proper educational and religious training for the blacks, and then they should hold the negro leaders largely responsible for the moral condition of the race. As one of the most thoughtful and conservative North Carolina editors has said : “ The negro preachers, teachers, and leaders must be made to feel their responsibility for negro crime. They should manufacture an anti-raping sentiment, and force it down through the several strata of their society until it touches bottom ; then outrages would cease. They have not done it. Instead they have virtually encouraged the crime by denouncing only its punishment by the mob.” So careful a journal as the Review of Reviews has commented on this indifference on the part of the colored leaders. “ Why do they bother themselves so much about the lynching of negro criminals and so little about the hideousness of negro crime ? ” asks Dr. Shaw. “Here we have the most painful aspect of the whole problem.”

This condition, moreover, is reflected in the negro’s general attitude toward law. Not a guardian protecting his rights, but an enemy restricting his freedom, has always been his conception of government. Lynching would be much less frequently resorted to, if the negroes, instead of concealing and shielding their criminals, would disown them and coöperate with the whites in the endeavor to punish them.

But let us also deal honestly with ourselves. Let us see to it that we place no stumbling-block in the path of the weaker race. Here, for example, is a charge which comes, I believe, from Dr. H. B. Frissell, of Hampton Institute : “ The way in which many respectable, intelligent colored girls are hounded by white men of the baser sort does much to create bitterness among the negroes, and leads them to palliate the crimes of their own race.” If this condition exists in any degree whatever we ought to free ourselves from the shame of it. The pressure of outraged public opinion should be strongly brought to bear on any white man who by any means encourages immorality among negro women. It is demoralizing. It is unworthy of our race. It reacts to our hurt. The bestiality of negro men is fostered by the unchastity of negro women. No form of racial amalgamation must find toleration among the whites.

Here, too, is a charge by Professor W. H. Council, one of our best-known negro educators : “ The negroes are brutalized, prepared for a career of crime, by low saloons and dens of vice, and these vice-factories owe their existence to white people. The blacks make no laws, they execute no laws. No judge or board of aldermen would allow the establishment of a saloon on the petition of negroes alone.” In view of the earnestness with which we have sought to protect the Indian against the demoralizing effects of drink and vice, it is surprising that the phase of the matter to which Professor Council alludes has not had more attention. I would commend to other states the action of our last North Carolina Legislature in abolishing all saloons in rural districts. In a community in which the whites are in a minority, and without police protection, it is little less than suicidal to keep a bar-room to inflame the passions and derange the reasons of criminally disposed negroes.


And the outlook — what of it ? I see no reason whatever for pessimism. The careful reader has probably anticipated this point, and has perceived that three notable forces are making against the progress of the mob spirit.

1. The delays, the technicalities, the solemn plausibilities of our legal machinery have done much to promote the evil. But now there are unmistakable signs of a public awakening. Reforms will follow, and lynching will become less frequent as law becomes more effective.

2. The sudden translation of the negro from a state of slavery to that of freedom and political prestige engendered unnatural aspirations and unwholesome tendencies. With many, to avoid manual labor and to get social recognition among the whites became a ruling passion. But now the leaders of the race are beginning to lay emphasis on the fundamentals, industry and character, as of more importance than political ambition or a veneering of impossible “ culture.” A Booker Washington, who trains workers, and who preaches peace and self-reliance, has succeeded a Frederick Douglass, whose business was politics, and who preached social equality and practiced miscegenation. The change is to uplift negro character, and to decrease lynchings by decreasing the crimes which provoke lynching.

3. The isolation of our rural districts has made effective police protection impossible, thus widening the opportunities for crime and the opportunities for the punishment of crime by the mob. But with the coming of denser population and quicker means of communication, the diminished number of crimes and the greater efficiency of the law will alike insure the decadence of the mob spirit.

In its deepest meaning, lynch law is only a belated outcropping of primitive anarchy, a symptom of an immature civilization. The development of the reforms I have indicated will bring the day when it can no longer exist in an American atmosphere.

Clarence H. Poe.

  1. See Compendium of Census, part iii. p. 300, and Bulletin on Crime, Pauperism and Benevolence, part i. p. 173.