Free Lynching In New South Capitalism Argumentative Essay Sample
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The Reconstruction era bore witness to the widespread practice of lynching carried out by the white southerners against the African Americans of the north. As political power continued to shift from the southerners to the northerners then to the southerner again brought about by the rise and fall of the Reconstruction, a significant increase in the incidences of lynching was also recorded. Lynching, an act by which a person is unjustly killed due to the lack of a legal trial, was a practice used by the whites to assert their supremacy over the blacks, which in turn inspired the African Americans to bravely affirm their desires and rights to be recognized as equal members of the society regardless of race, class, and gender.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction signalled the end of slavery and marked the re-entry of the defeated southern states to the Union. However, the lack of social, political, and economic provisions for the said union presented several issues that left the African Americans in confusion of whether they were freed in every sense of the word because of their lack of the right to vote. In order to address the issues regarding the integration of the African Americans to the free world as free people, the Freedman’s Bureau was established. With the bureau in place, African Americans were able to acquire lands, protect their civil rights, have access to food and medical care, and be able to attend school (Jones Royster 5). When the bureau’s activities came to an end, power shifted back to the south which had the freed me and women in bondage again. The Black Codes, a collection of laws that closely resembled the Slave Codes, a line which divided the whites from the blacks was established. The rights of the African Americans were confined by such laws which prevented them from voting, be part of the juries, and participate in interracial marriages, be involved in legal cases but only those which involved African Americans, or rent or purchase properties from limited areas (Jones Royster 6). Several other laws curtailed the rights of the supposed freed men and women.
During the 1866 national elections, some Republicans, later on called Radical Republicans, moved towards seeing through that the cause of justice for the freed African Americans was served. The Radical Reconstruction got rid of the Black Codes and the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. As a result, African Americans were able to flourish under the protection of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery and established citizenship for the freed men and women, the Fourteenth Amendment which provided them with basic rights and equality, and the Fifteenth Amendment which gave them the right to vote (Jones Royster 7). While the freed men and women took advantage of their renewed freedom, secret terrorist organizations, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, started being active. These organizations intimidated, mutilated, and murdered African Americans as well as those who were suspected of sympathizing with them through lynching and other acts of violence in response to the alleged molestation and rape of white women. Ida Wells described the said acts as “an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and “keep the nigger down” (Wells cited in Jones Royster 4).
Wells was a well-recognized figure in the African American community because of her frank and honest delivery of reports to the readers of Free Speech, a weekly newspaper in Memphis that she co-owned in which she was also the editor, the reporter, and the publisher. While several African American organizations such as Afro-American League and the Equal Rights Council took steps to protect their community from the escalating amount of violence against them, Wells used her paper to staunchly fight lynching after three of her closest friends in Memphis were killed by the white owner of the grocery which was in competition with the grocery owned by her three friends. The editorial about the case of her friends ended up becoming a sensational topic which put her life to danger and forced her to live in exile in New York for thirty years. She continued her anti-lynching campaign and in the process opened the doors for discussion about the restrictions placed on women. Writing and participating in discussions about race and gender was strictly limited to men. Wells’ inclusion to the said sphere was considered remarkable, more so because women’s role were confined to domestic more than public (Jones Royster 20). Women’s lives were largely controlled by the head of the household and every decision was made by him. However, with the advent of technological innovation and inventions influenced by industrialism, women’s roles were reshaped. Women started doing office works instead of just household chores, and their struggle for higher education was eventually granted. Several universities provided women with better education regardless of skin colour. As a result, more and more women started working as professionals in fields which were once prohibited to them.
Wells met and worked with other remarkable women who established organizations such as the Boston Woman’s Era Club, the Coloured Woman’s League of Washington, D.C., the National Association of Coloured Women (NACW), the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), and many others. These American club women played vital roles in anti-lynching movements, such as the NACW which publicized the lynching of African American women.
While lynching paved the way for African Americans to be united and make their voices heard, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of Nation placed them at a negative light. The film’s plot moved around the fates of a man and a woman from a southern and northern family during and after the Civil War. African Americans from the south were depicted as lascivious and vicious while the hooded riders of the Ku Klux Klan were portrayed as heroes who helped white women from the sexual clutches of black men. The rise of the Klan, as shown through the series of intertitles, was described as a positive effect in the redemption of the whites from the devastation of the blacks (Griffith dir.). In one scene, the hooded Klansmen were shown dumping Gus’s body, an African American man they killed for causing Flora’s suicide (Griffith dir.). This scene highlights how white men viewed lynching, which they committed because “law and order did not satisfy the needs of justice” which thereby had them ignoring or circumventing it (Jones Royster 9). Another attack against the African Americans was shown through a scene where newly elected black legislators were shown lounging on their chair and drinking whiskey while leering at the white women in the visitors’ gallery (Griffith dir.).
Lynching played an important role in the evolution of African Americans to how they are today in the society. While it was a negative practice and an act of violence committed against them due to their race, class, and gender, the effects were transformed into positive results. African Americans became one in their goal of ending the tension which existed between them and the whites by trying to work with them, while others established organizations that would ensure their safety. Women, on the other hand, were able to strengthen and cement their role as active participants in the society. Griffith, on the other hand, presented lynching as a positive act against the perceived brutish treatment of black men against white women. While both views contradict each other, both were able to present two different perspectives of lynching.
Griffith, D.W., dir. The Birth of a Nation. 1915. Film.
Jones Royster, Jacqueeline, Ida B. Wells, Eric Arnesen, and Ellen Schrecker. Southern Horrors
and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900. New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2010. Web.
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