Ida B. Wells-Barnett
The Red Record
Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States


Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at Project Gutenberg.

(NB. Paragraph numbers apply to this excerpt, not the original source.)

{1}Not all nor nearly all of the murders done by white men, during the past thirty years in the South, have come to light, but the statistics as gathered and preserved by white men, and which have not been questioned, show that during these years more than ten thousand Negroes have been killed in cold blood, without the formality of judicial trial and legal execution. And yet, as evidence of the absolute impunity with which the white man dares to kill a Negro, the same record shows that during all these years, and for all these murders only three white men have been tried, convicted, and executed. As no white man has been lynched for the murder of colored people, these three executions are the only instances of the death penalty being visited upon white men for murdering Negroes.

{2}Naturally enough the commission of these crimes began to tell upon the public conscience, and the Southern white man, as a tribute to the nineteenth-century civilization, was in a manner compelled to give excuses for his barbarism. His excuses have adapted themselves to the emergency, and are aptly outlined by that greatest of all Negroes, Frederick Douglass, in an article of recent date, in which he shows that there have been three distinct eras of Southern barbarism, to account for which three distinct excuses have been made.

{2}The first excuse given to the civilized world for the murder of unoffending Negroes was the necessity of the white man to repress and stamp out alleged "race riots." For years immediately succeeding the war there was an appalling slaughter of colored people, and the wires usually conveyed to northern people and the world the intelligence, first, that an insurrection was being planned by Negroes, which, a few hours later, would prove to have been vigorously resisted by white men, and controlled with a resulting loss of several killed and wounded. It was always a remarkable feature in these insurrections and riots that only Negroes were killed during the rioting, and that all the white men escaped unharmed. . . .

{3}Then came the second excuse, which had its birth during the turbulent times of reconstruction. By an amendment to the Constitution the Negro was given the right of franchise, and, theoretically at least, his ballot became his invaluable emblem of citizenship. In a government "of the people, for the people, and by the people," the Negro's vote became an important factor in all matters of state and national politics. But this did not last long. . . . "No Negro domination" became the new legend on the sanguinary banner of the sunny South, and under it rode the Ku Klux Klan, the Regulators, and the lawless mobs, which for any cause chose to murder one man or a dozen as suited their purpose best. It was a long, gory campaign; the blood chills and the heart almost loses faith in Christianity when one thinks of . . . the countless massacres of defenseless Negroes, whose only crime was the attempt to exercise their right to vote. . . .The franchise vouchsafed to the Negro grew to be a "barren ideality." . . . With the Southern governments all subverted and the Negro actually eliminated from all participation in state and national elections, there could be no longer an excuse for killing Negroes to prevent "Negro Domination."

{4}Brutality still continued; Negroes were whipped, scourged, exiled, shot and hung whenever and wherever it pleased the white man so to treat them, and as the civilized world with increasing persistency held the white people of the South to account for its outlawry, the murderers invented the third excuse -- that Negroes had to be killed to avenge their assaults upon women. There could be framed no possible excuse more harmful to the Negro and more unanswerable if true in its sufficiency for the white man. . . .

{5}If the Southern people in defense of their lawlessness, would tell the truth and admit that colored men and women are lynched for almost any offense, from murder to a misdemeanor, there would not now be the necessity for this defense. But when they intentionally, maliciously and constantly belie the record and bolster up these falsehoods by the words of legislators, preachers, governors and bishops, then the Negro must give to the world his side of the awful story. . . .

{6} [The following summary of news stories about African Americans who were lynched in 1893 tabulates the reported crimes for which each person was lynched:]

Rape, 39;
attempted rape, 8;
alleged rape, 4;
suspicion of rape, 1;

murder, 44;
alleged murder, 6;
alleged complicity in murder, 4;
murderous assault, 1;
attempted murder, 1;

attempted robbery, 4;
arson, 4;
incendiarism, 3;
alleged stock poisoning, 1;
poisoning wells, 2;
alleged poisoning wells, 5;
burglary, 1;
wife beating, 1;
self-defense, 1;
suspected robbery, 1;
assault and battery, 1;
insulting whites, 2;
malpractice, 1;
alleged barn burning, 4;
stealing, 2;
unknown offense, 4;
no offense, 1;
race prejudice, 4;

total, 159.

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