First EditionWELLS, Ida B. Lynching, Our National Crime [appearing in] The Proceedings of the National Negro Conference, 1909. New York: [National Negro Conference], 1909. 229 pages. Small octavo. Publisher's original green cloth; title in gilt. Exceedingly rare, the culmination of the 1909 National Negro Conference, which became the NAACP the following year. No record of this book at auction. In addition to Ms. Wells' article, W.E.B. Du Bois contributes two pieces: Politics and Industry and Evolution of the Race Problem. Toning to pages, Spine straight with no lean. Shelfwear, and rubbing to corners, small two inch stain to verso, gilt of title fading in spots but largely clear and still luminous. Light foxing to endpapers, very occasional creases to page corners. A beautiful copy of this exceptionally rare title.
Wells's courageous reporting on lynching led her both into harms way and also to the most radical ideas of the turn of the century. In Lynching, Our National Crime, Wells first proves that lynching, far from being unpredictable mob violence, can be repeatedly traced along a color line that effectively keeps African Americans impoverished and disenfranchised, and then argues that the most effective way to end the national practice is to extend true federal protection to all American citizens regardless of their skin color, and thus legal repercussions to the white mobs carrying out these atrocities. Americans fundamentally misunderstand the practice of lynching as apolitical, Wells explains: "The lynching record for a quarter of a century merits the thoughtful study of the American people. It presents three salient facts: First, lynching is color-line murder. Second, crimes against women is the excuse, not the cause. Third, it is a national crime and requires a national remedy. Proof that lynching follows the color line is to be found in the statistics which have been kept for the past twenty-five years. During the few years preceding this period and while frontier law existed, the executions showed a majority of white victims. Later, however, as law courts and authorized judiciary extended into the far West, lynch law rapidly abated, and its white victims became few and far between. Just as the lynch-law regime came to a close in the West, a new mob movement started in the South. This was wholly political, its purpose being to suppress the colored vote by intimidation and murder. " Wells goes on to prove this with lynching statistics; She also decries the way in which white female victimhood is weaponized by lynchers: No other nation, civilized or savage, burns its criminals; only under that Stars and Stripes is the human holocaust possible [...] What is the cause of this awful slaughter? This question is answered almost daily— always the same shameless falsehood that “Negroes are lynched to protect womanhood.” Standing before a Chautauqua assemblage, John Temple Graves, at once champion of lynching and apologist for lynchers, said: “The mob stands today as the most potential bulwark between the women of the South and such a carnival of crime as would infuriate the world and precipitate the annihilation of the Negro race.” This is the never-varying answer of lynchers and their apologists. All know that it is untrue. The cowardly lyncher revels in murder, then seeks to shield himself from public execration by claiming devotion to woman. But truth is mighty and the lynching record discloses the hypocrisy of the lyncher as well as his crime."
"The only certain remedy," Wells goes on to argue, "is an appeal to law. Lawbreakers must be made to know that human life is sacred and that every citizen of this country is first a citizen of the United States [...] In a multitude of counsel there is wisdom. Upon the grave question presented by the slaughter of innocent men, women and children there should be an honest, courageous conference of patriotic, law-abiding citizens anxious to punish crime promptly, impartially and by due process of law, also to make life, liberty and property secure against mob rule. Time was when lynching appeared to be sectional, but now it is national—a blight upon our nation, mocking our laws and disgracing our Christianity. “With malice toward none but with charity for all” let us undertake the work of making the “law of the land” effective and supreme upon every foot of American soil—a shield to the innocent; and to the guilty, punishment swift and sure." At one a cry for justice and American ideals, and an incredible piece of journalism and historical analysis, Lynching, Our National Crime is as pertinent today as it was in 1909.
Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War. Though she was orphaned at 16 by the yellow fever epidemic, Wells went on to support the rest of her extended family be becoming a teacher, and then a journalist. Wells exposed lynching as a barbaric practice of Whites in the South used to intimidate and oppress African Americans who created economic and political competition. She faced numerous death threats and at one point a mob even destroyed her newspaper offices. Yet Well's work continued to be carried and published nationwide; in 2020, Wells was posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize special citation "[f]or her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching."