Lynch Law and Segregation


Web Module # 1

Lynch Law and Segregation


          Following the end of the Civil War, Southern whites sought to control the former slaves in the South and undermine the influence of the Republican Party.  A favorite method was to use mob violence or its threat by informal groups or organized groups such as the Klu Klux Klan.  Gradually, following the end of Reconstruction in 1877, these extra-legal methods, although never completely abandoned, were replaced with the systematic building of legal restrictions to segregate African- Americans from white society.  Popularly referred to as Jim Crow laws they affirmed the second-class citizenship of the former slaves and their descendents by denying them even the most basic civil rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  These restrictions were upheld by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Plessy v Ferguson (1896) by declaring that separate but equal public accommodations were sanctioned by the United States Constitution.
          Mob violence was never accepted by African-Americans.  One of the most outspoken and tireless leaders against lynch law was Ida B. Wells-Barnett.  Born a slave in 1862 she managed to gain a college education and pursued her love of journalism.  First in editorials, in her Memphis, Tennessee newspaper Free Speech, she spoke out forcefully about the practice of lynching and exposed its darkest inspirations and intense brutality.  After her newspaper’s office was burned she moved to Chicago where she continued her crusade until her death in 1931.
          Segregation also was never accepted by African-Americans.  Beginning in the 1880s, a debate over how best to fight segregation animated the black community.  The most prominent African-American in the late Nineteenth Century was Booker T. Washington.  Born a slave, he worked his way through Hampton Institute and in 1881 became the President of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  Living in the South and depending on Southern philanthropy, Washington followed a cautious route, but his goal always remained to end the system of racial segregation.  His Atlanta Exposition Address (1895) was widely circulated and met with an overwhelming favorable response throughout the United States.
          Early in the Twentieth Century, Washington’s position was attacked by a new group of young African-Americans.  Lead by W.E.B. Du Bois, a Harvard Ph.D. in history, these mostly Northern black intellectuals believed that Washington’s public remedy for segregation was not the answer.  Du Bois, who taught at Atlanta University and had first supported Washington, broke with the famous leader in a book titled The Souls of Black Folks (1903).  His efforts to chart a new course lead eventually to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Funded in part by Northern white philanthropy, this inter-racial organization would assume the leadership role in the struggle for African-American Civil Rights.
         This web module exercise is designed to introduce students to the nature of race relations at the turn of the 20th Century and the African-American response to these conditions.  The exercise has three components.


  1. For the preliminary analysis of the documents do the following.
    1. Read the documents (note you have a choice with regard to the Lynch Law documents).
    2. Guided by the questions, describe the content of each document.
    3. What is the historical context for each document? (Why was the document created?)
    4. How do the documents contradict other documents?

  2. For the final analysis each Web Module Analysis Group must submit a single report that does the following.
    1. Building on your preliminary analysis explains what the materials taken together tell us about race relations and the debate over them at the turn of the century.
    2. What evidence within the documents most informs and supports your analysis.


Lynch Law in Georgia

          Click for text:  Lynch Law in Georgia

          Link to full text:$REF$

         This pamphlet was authored by Ida B. Wells-Barnett and widely circulated in the North.  It contains the reports of several lynchings and the results of an investigation by a Chicago police officer into the brutal mutilation and lynching of a Samuel Wilkes (alias Hose) in 1899.

         Read one of the lynching accounts and the report of the police officer at the end of the pamphlet.

         How would you describe the lynching you have selected?

  1. What are the justifications given for the lynching?
  2. Was the mob wild or under control?
  3. What do you think the real motives of the mob were?
  4. What does the police officer determine was the cause of this brutal killing?


Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition Address (1895)

          Click for text:  Booker T. Washington Speech

          Link to full text:

          Booker T. Washington delivered this famous speech at the Cotton State Exposition of Industry and the Arts held in Atlanta, Georgia.

          How would you describe the general tenor of the speech?

  1. What are Washington’s goals?
  2. How does he feel his goals are best achieved?
  3. Do you think the site of the speech influenced the content?


W.E.B.Du Bois Critique of Booker T. Washington (1903)

          Click for text:  W.E.B. Du Bois Critique    

          Link to full text:

          How would you characterize W.E.B. Du Bois’ criticism of Booker T. Washington’s leadership?

    Why does he criticize Washington’s ideas?

  1. What about Washington’s ideas undermine his goals?
  2. What does Du Bois propose as an alternative program?
  3. Do the two agree on any issues?

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