Tag Archives: crime & violence

Speaking Truth to Power, Taking Risks

Ida B. Wells published an editorial on her investigation on lynching in her Memphis paper, The Free Speech. When her office was destroyed by a mob, she wrote a more detailed account in the New York Age a black newspaper in New York City. On October 26, 1892, Wells published this research in a pamphlet titled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. Having examined many accounts of lynchings due to the alleged “rape of white women,” she concluded that Southerners cried rape as an excuse to hide their real reasons for lynchings: black economic progress, which threatened white Southerners with competition, and white ideas of enforcing black second-class status in the society. Black economic progress was a contemporary issue in the South, and in many states whites worked to suppress black progress. In this period at the turn of the century, Southern states, starting with Mississippi in 1890, passed laws and/or new constitutions to disenfranchise most black people and many poor white people through use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other devices. Wells-Barnett recommended that black people use arms to defend against lynching.

She followed-up with greater research and detail in The Red Record (1895), a 100-page pamphlet describing lynching in the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. It also covered black peoples’ struggles in the South since the Civil War. The Red Record explored the alarmingly high rates of lynching in the United States (which was at a peak from 1880 to 1930). Wells-Barnett said that during Reconstruction, most Americans outside the South did not realize the growing rate of violence against black people in the South. She believed that during slavery, white people had not committed as many attacks because of the economic labour value of slaves. Wells noted that, since slavery time, “ten thousand Negroes have been killed in cold blood, [through lynching] without the formality of judicial trial and legal execution.”

Frederick Douglass had written an article noting three eras of “Southern barbarism,” and the excuses that whites claimed in each period.

Wells-Barnett explored these in detail in her The Red Record.

During slavery time, she noted that whites worked to “repress and stamp out alleged ‘race riots.'” or suspected slave rebellions, usually killing black people in far higher proportions than any white casualties. Once the Civil War ended, white people feared black people, who were in the majority in many areas. White people acted to control them and suppress them by violence.
During the Reconstruction Era white people lynched black people as part of mob efforts to suppress black political activity and re-establish white supremacy after the war. They feared “Negro Domination” through voting and taking office. Wells-Barnett urged black people in high-risk areas to move away to protect their families.
She noted that whites frequently claimed that black men had “to be killed to avenge their assaults upon women.” She noted that white people assumed that any relationship between a white woman and a black man was a result of rape. But, given power relationships, it was much more common for white men to take sexual advantage of poor black women. She stated: “Nobody in this section of the country believes the old threadbare lie that black men rape white women.” Wells connected lynching to sexual violence showing how the myth of the black man’s lust for white women led to murder of African American men.
Wells-Barnett gave 14 pages of statistics related to lynching cases committed from 1892 to 1895; she also included pages of graphic accounts detailing specific lynchings. She notes that her data was taken from articles by white correspondents, white press bureaus, and white newspapers. The Red Record was a huge pamphlet, and had far-reaching influence in the debate about lynching. Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases and The Red Record’s accounts of these lynchings grabbed the attention of Northerners who knew little about lynching or accepted the common explanation that black men deserved this fate. Generally southern states and white juries refused to indict any perpetrators for lynching, although they were frequently known and sometimes shown in the photographs being made more frequently of such events.

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May ~ Election Year 1896

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In a case which has been awaiting decision, the Supreme Court legalizes segregation as the law of the land. President Cleveland is not getting along well with Congress, exercising his veto power ten times this month. The Prohibition Party splits along policy lines.The United States executes its first known serial killer. Americans are smuggling guns to Cuban rebels. The Shah of Persia is murdered. The Russian Empire sees the coronation of the newest– and last– Tsar.

May 1– Friday– Tehran, Persia– Naser al-Din, age 64, Shah of Persia who has ruled since 1848, is shot and mortally wounded as he prays at a shrine.

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the Shah of Persia

 

May 2– Saturday– Corinto, Nicaragua– U. S. Marines arrive to protect American business interests.

May 2– Saturday– Athens, Greece– Birth of Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark. [She will become the Queen Mother of Romania and save many Romania Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War. Dies November 28, 1982.]

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Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark

 

May 6– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– President Grover Cleveland issues an executive order making changes to the Civil Service Rules.

May 7– Thursday– Philadelphia, Pennsylvania– Herman Webster Mudgett, a/k/a H H Holmes, age 34, is hung for murder. He had confessed to 27 murders but may have killed many more. He is the first known American serial killer.

May 11– Monday– Sheridan County, Nebraska– Birth of Mari Susette Sandoz, educator, historian, biographer and author. [Dies March 10, 1966.]

May 18– Monday– Washington, D.C.– The U. S. Supreme Court announces its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. The majority of the court holds: “So far, then, as a conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment is concerned, the case reduces itself to the question whether the statute of Louisiana is a reasonable regulation, and with respect to this there must necessarily be a large discretion on the part of the legislature. In determining the question of reasonableness it is at liberty to act with reference to the established usages, customs and traditions of the people, and with a view to the promotion of their comfort, and the preservation of the public peace and good order. Gauged by this standard, we cannot say that a law which authorizes or even requires the separation of the two races in public conveyances is unreasonable, or more obnoxious to the Fourteenth Amendment than the acts of Congress requiring separate schools for colored children in the District of Columbia, the constitutionality of which does not seem to have been questioned, or the corresponding acts of state legislatures. We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it. The argument necessarily assumes that if, as has been more than once the case, and is not unlikely to be so again, the colored race should become the dominant power in the state legislature, and should enact a law in precisely similar terms, it would thereby relegate the white race to an inferior position. We imagine that the white race, at least, would not acquiesce in this assumption. The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits and a voluntary consent of individuals…Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.”

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Justice John Marshall Harlan, author of the lone dissent in Plessy

 

In a lone dissent Justice Harlan writes: “I am of opinion that the statute of Louisiana is inconsistent with the personal liberty of citizens, white and black, in that State, and hostile to both the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the United States. If laws of like character should be enacted in the several States of the Union, the effect would be in the highest degree mischievous. Slavery, as an institution tolerated by law would, it is true, have disappeared from our country, but there would remain a power in the States, by sinister legislation, to interfere with the full enjoyment of the blessings of freedom to regulate civil rights, common to all citizens, upon the basis of race, and to place in a condition of legal inferiority a large body of American citizens now constituting a part of the political community called the People of the United States, for whom and by whom, through representatives, our government is administered. Such a system is inconsistent with the guarantee given by the Constitution to each State of a republican form of government, and may be stricken down by Congressional action, or by the courts in the discharge of their solemn duty to maintain the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding. For the reasons stated, I am constrained to withhold my assent from the opinion and judgment of the majority.” [The literature on the case is extensive; good places to start include the following: Color-blind Justice: Albion Tourgee and the Quest for Racial Equality from the Civil War to Plessy V Ferguson (2006) by Mark Elliott; Separate and Unequal: Homer Plessy and the Supreme Court Decision That Legalized Racism (2005) by Harvey Fireside; Simple Justice: the History of Brown V Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality (1976) by Richard Kluger.]

May 19– Tuesday– Honolulu, Hawaii– Kate Field, journalist, lecturer, actress, playwright, literary critic and social commentator, dies of pneumonia at 57 years of age.

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Kate Field

 

May 20– Wednesday– Frankfort, Germany– Clara Wieck Schumann, age 76, musician and composer dies of a stroke.

May 21– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– “It can not be denied that the remarriage of this beneficiary terminated her pensionable relation to the Government as completely as if it never existed. The statute which so provides simply declares what is approved by a fair and sensible consideration of pension principles. As a legal proposition, the pensionable status of a soldier’s widow, lost by her remarriage, can not be recovered by the dissolution of the second marriage. Waiving, however, the application of strictly legal principles to the subject, there does not appear to be any sentiment which should restore to the pension rolls as the widow of a deceased soldier a divorced wife who has relinquished the title of soldier’s widow to again become a wife, and who to secure the expected advantages and comforts of a second marriage has been quite willing to forego the provision which was made for her by the Government solely on the grounds of her soldier widowhood.” ~ Veto message from President Cleveland of a bill to restore a pension to a Civil War widow who married and later divorced another man.

May 23– Saturday– along the coast of Cuba– An American privately owned ship, having avoided Spanish warships, arrives with American-made munitions for the use of the Cuban rebels in their on-going fight with the Spanish.

May 26– Tuesday– Campbell, California– James Dunham kills his wife, her brother, her mother, her step-father and two servants. He successfully disappears and is never captured.

May 26– Tuesday– Moscow, Russia– Tsar Nicholas II, age 28, ruling since November 1, 1894, has his official coronation.

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Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II

 

May 27– Wednesday– St Louis, Missouri– A severe tornado sweeps through the area, killing 255 people and doing $144,000,000 in damages. The Republican National Convention is scheduled for the next month in this city but the destruction raises questions about whether the city can now accommodate the gathering. [The dollar amount of damages would equal $4,190,000,000 in today’s dollars, using the Consumer Price Index.]

May 28– Thursday– Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania– About 300 delegates representing 27 states secede from the Prohibition Party convention and form a new party which they call The National Party. They nominate Reverend Charles Bentley, age 55, of Nebraska for president and James Southgate, age 36, of North Carolina for vice-president. They adopt the following platform: “recognizing God as the Author of all just power in government, presents the following declaration of principles . . . 1. The suppression of the manufacture and sale, importation, exportation, and transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes. We utterly reject all plans for regulating or compromising with this traffic, whether such plans be called local option, taxation, license, or public control. The sale of liquors for medicinal and other legitimate uses should be conducted by the state, without profit, and with such regulations as will prevent fraud or evasion. 2. No citizen should be denied the right to vote on account of sex. 3. All money should be issued by the general government only, and without the intervention of any private citizen, corporation, or banking institution. . . . . we favor the free and unlimited coinage of both silver and gold, at the ratio 16 to 1, without consulting any other nation. 4. Land is the common heritage of the people and should be preserved from monopoly and speculation. . . . . 5. Railroads, telegraphs, and other natural monopolies should be owned and operated by the government, giving to the people the benefit of service at actual cost. 6. The national Constitution should be so amended as to allow the national revenues to be raised by equitable adjustment of taxation on the properties and incomes of the people, and import duties should be levied as a means of securing equitable commercial relations with other nations.7. The contract convict labor system, through which speculators are enriched at the expense of the state, should be abolished. 8. All citizens should be protected by law in their right to one day of rest in seven, without oppressing any who conscientiously observe any other than the first day of the week. 9. American public schools, taught in the English language, should be maintained, and no public funds should be appropriated for sectarian institutions. 10. The President, Vice-President, and United States senators should be elected by direct vote of the people. 11. Ex-soldiers and sailors of the United States army and navy, their widows and minor children, should receive liberal pensions, granted on disability and term of service, not merely as a debt of gratitude, but for service rendered in the preservation of the Union. 12. Our immigration laws should be so revised as to exclude paupers and criminals. None but citizens of the United States should be allowed to vote in any state, and naturalized citizens should not vote until one year after naturalization papers have been issued. 13. The initiative and referendum, and proportional representation, should be adopted.” [Bently dies September 6, 1905. Southgate dies September 29, 1916.]

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Charles Bentley

 

May 29– Friday– Washington, D.C.– “To the extent that the appropriations contained in this bill are instigated by private interests and promote local or individual projects their allowance can not fail to stimulate a vicious paternalism and encourage a sentiment among our people, already too prevalent, that their attachment to our Government may properly rest upon the hope and expectation of direct and especial favors and that the extent to which they are realized may furnish an estimate of the value of governmental care. I believe no greater danger confronts us as a nation than the unhappy decadence among our people of genuine and trustworthy love and affection for our Government as the embodiment of the highest and best aspirations of humanity, and not as the giver of gifts, and because its mission is the enforcement of exact justice and equality, and not the allowance of unfair favoritism. I hope I may be permitted to suggest, at a time when the issue of Government bonds to maintain the credit and financial standing of the country is a subject of criticism, that the contracts provided for in this bill would create obligations of the United States amounting to $62,000,000 no less binding than its bonds for that sum.” ~ Message to Congress from President Cleveland as he vetoes a bill to improve rivers and harbors throughout the country.

May 30– Saturday– Moscow, Russia– Drawn by offers of free food and beer to honor the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II, thousands of people gather in Khodynka Field. When rumors of a shortage of the proffered food and drink circulate, a panic ensues, killing 1,389 people and injuring about 1,300 others.

Chodynka

the crowd at Khodynka Field before the panic began

 

 

May~Election Year 1932

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The United States keeps falling into the Great Depression and citizens look to the federal government to do something. Violence and political troubles shake Germany, France, New Zealand, Peru, Japan, India, Austria and Cuba.

May 2– Washington, D.C.– In the case of Nixon v Condon, the Supreme Court by a 5 to 4 decision holds the Democratic Party’s primary election system in Texas which excludes black people is unconstitutional. Justice Benjamin Cardozo writes the majority opinion while Justice James McReynolds writes for the four dissenters. Cardozo, age 62, is the newest member of the Court, appointed by the president on March 2nd.

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Benjamin Cardozo

 

May 3– Tuesday– New York City– Columbia University announces the winners of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes who include five reporters from the Detroit Free Press, one from the St Louis Post-Dispatch, one from the New York Times, and a cartoonist from the Chicago Tribune. Book awards go to Henry F Pringle for his biography Theodore Roosevelt, Pearl Buck for The Good Earth and retired General John J Pershing for My Experiences in the World War.

May 3– Tuesday– Sacramento, California– John Nance Garner, age 63, a lawyer and politician from Texas, wins the Democratic primary.

May 4– Wednesday– Moscow, Russia– The Soviet union and Estonia sign a non-aggression pact.

May 5– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– “The imperative need of the nation today is a definite and conclusive program for balancing the budget. Uncertainty is disastrous. It must be in every sense a national program. Sectional, partisan, group, or class considerations can have no place in it. Ours is a government of all the people, created to protect and promote the common good, and when the claims of any group or class are inconsistent with the welfare of all, they must give way.” ~ Message from President Herbert Hoover to Congress.

May 6– Friday– Paris, France– President Paul Doumer, age 75, is shot and mortally wounded by a Russian emigre named Paul Gorguloff at a book fair.

May 7– Saturday– Paris, France– President Paul Doumer dies of his wound.

May 9– Monday– Washington, D.C.– President Hoover vetoes a bill which have allowed civilians who served in the Quartermaster Corps to be cared for in old soldiers’ home.

May 10– Tuesday– Paris, France– Albert Francois Lebrun becomes the new President of France.

May 10– Tuesday– Wellington, New Zealand– A riot ensues when the government refuses to respond to the demands of 4,000 relief workers.

May 12– Thursday– Hopewell Township, New Jersey– The body of Charles Lindbergh, Jr, the 20 month old son Charles Lindbergh, is found two months after his kidnaping.

May 12– Thursday– Berlin, Germany– Wilhelm Groener, Defense Minister, resigns from his post. The Reichstag is shut down after violence by four Nazi members.

May 13– Friday– Marseilles, France– Former king Alfonso XIII of Spain is assaulted by a Spanish citizen.

May 14– Saturday– Mexico City, Mexico– The government breaks diplomatic relations with Peru after that country accused Mexican diplomats of plotting to stir up public disorder.

May 15– Sunday– Tokyo, Japan– A group of naval officers and army cadets assassinate Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi in a failed coup attempt.

May 17– Tuesday– Bombay, India– British troops end four days of rioting between Hindus and Muslims by opening fire on the rival crowds.

May 18– Wednesday– Havana, Cuba– Police arrest several hundred people on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

May 19– Dublin, Ireland– By a vote of 77 to 69, the lower house of the Irish Free State parliament passes a bill to abolish the oath of allegiance to the English king which was mandated of all legislators by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 which had concluded the Irish War for Independence.

May 20– Friday– Vienna, Austria– Engelbert Dollfuss becomes Chancellor of Austria.

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Amelia Earhart

 

May 21–Saturday– Culmore, Northern Ireland–Amelia Earhart, age 34, arrives from Newfoundland, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Engine trouble prevents her from going on to Paris as Charles Lindbergh had done.

May 22–Sunday– Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–The Pittsburgh Courier, an African American newspaper, criticizes the Hoover administration for providing only segregated facilities for black Gold Star Mothers going to visit the graves of their sons in Europe.

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Robert L Vann, founding editor of Pittsburgh Courier

 

May 22– Sunday– County Galway, Ireland– Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, folklorist, poet, dramatist and key figure in the Irish literary revival, dies of breast cancer at 80 years of age.

May 22– Sunday– Tokyo, Japan– The Emperor appoints Saito Makoto as the new Prime Minister.

May 23– Monday– Geneva, Switzerland– The scientist Albert Einstein, age 53, issues a call for pacifists worldwide to demand total disarmament to take place within the next five years. “War can’t be humanized. It can only be abolished,” he asserts.

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Albert Einstein, circa 1921

 

May 25– Wednesday– Rome, Italy– Italy and Turkey renew their non-aggression treaty of 1928 for another five years and agree to improved trade relations.

May 26– Thursday– Hamburg, Germany– The shortage of food leads to a riot in which two people are killed.

May 27– Friday– Washington, D.C.– At his press conference President Hoover explains his opposition to a pending bill in Congress. “A total of over 3,500 projects of various kinds are proposed in this bill, scattered into every quarter of the United States. Many of these projects have heretofore been discredited by Congress because of useless extravagance involved. Many were originally authorized as justified only in the long-distant future. I do not believe that 20 percent could be brought to the stage of employment for a year. I am advised by the engineers that the amount of labor required to complete a group of $400 million of these works would amount to only 100,000 men for 1 year because they are in large degree mechanized jobs. This is not unemployment relief. It is the most gigantic pork barrel ever proposed to the American Congress. It is an unexampled raid on the Public Treasury. Detailed lists of these projects have been broadcast to every part of the country during the past 24 hours, to the cities, towns, villages, and sections who would receive a portion of this pork barrel. It is apparently expected that the cupidity of these towns and sections will demand that their Congressmen and Senators vote for this bill or threaten to penalize them if they fail to join in this squandering of money. I just do not believe that such lack of intelligence or cupidity exists amongst the people of the United States.”

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President Herbert Hoover

 

May 30– Monday– Washington, D.C.– “I have received Your Majesty’s gracious message. The tribute which you and the Belgian people are paying on Decoration Day to the memory of those American soldiers and sailors who gave their lives for the cause of justice and whose bodies rest in Belgium, echoes and resounds in every American heart with gratitude and affection for their Belgian comrades and friends. I and my fellow country men in dedicating this day to our own dead will be keenly mindful of your own country’s great sacrifice and will bend our heads in silent prayer for Belgium’s heroic dead.” ~ Message from President Hoover to King Albert of Belgium, in response to the king’s memorial day message of friendship.