62. American Barbarism: Ida B. Wells

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Ida B. Wells, her tireless crusade against lynching, and her analysis of the underlying purpose of racial violence



Further Reading

• A.M. Duster (ed.), Crusade for Justice: the Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (Chicago: 1970).

• J. Jones Royster (ed.), Southern Horrors and Other Writings: the Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900 (Boston: 1997).

• I.B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (New York: 1892).

• I.B. Wells, A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States (Chicago: 1894).

• I.B. Wells-Barnett, Mob Rule in New Orleans (Chicago: 1900).

• P.J. Giddings, Ida, a Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign against Lynching (New York: 2008);

• L.O. McMurry, Keep the Waters Troubled: The Life of Ida B. Wells (Oxford: 1998).

• P.A. Schechter, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform 1880-1930 (Chapel Hill: 2001).

• S.L. Silkey, Black Woman Reformer: Ida B. Wells, Lynching, and Transatlantic Activism (Athens: 2015).

• A.D. Sims, Ethical Complications of Lynching: Ida B. Wells’s Interrogation of American Terror (New York: 2010).


18 March 2024 on 18 March 2024


I have a query about two of the statistics in this episode.

At around 7 minutes you say that ... "between 1889 and 1932 almost 4,000 were lynched, three people a week for more than thirty years."

Given that this is series about Africana and black people, my guess is that listeners will assume that all of those 4,000 people would be black.

At the webpage below, they say that between 1882 and 1968, 4,743 people were lynched. That seems to fit to the figure you have for 1889 to 1932. Of those, 4,743 people, 1,297 were white.

Search for something like - "Tuskegee lynching state by state" (If I post too many urls, past experience suggests the post will be rejected)

The NAACP says the same. In the sixth paragraph of their webpage. Search for something like - " NAACP history of lynching in america"

On the face of it then, your presentation of this seems misleading. Did you know that that figure included white people? Perhaps you have different statistics?

Strictly speaking the sentence is not wrong, but given the context, almost every listener is going to assume that all of those 4,000 people were black. Perhaps also that few white people were ever lynched. Not true. The US was, and is, a violent place.

Which takes me to the second statistic, that "young black men are nine times more likely to be killed than anyone else"

I think I can see which Guardian article you got that figure from. "Young black men killed by US police at highest rate in year of 1,134 deaths"

In my view The Guardian has twisted the statistics to give the most sensational leading sentence they can. The better way to present the statistic, is simply to state the percentage of black people killed by police and the percentage of black people that make up the US population.

266 of the 1,134 were black, 23.5%. With black people making up about 13% of the US population.

The Guardian later does that in the article.

"Overall in 2015, black people were killed at twice the rate of white, Hispanic and native Americans."

I don't know exactly how The Guardian got to nine times more likely. I guess it's because they chose to focus on a specific demographic. Young black men. Not old black men. Not young black women. But young black men. Again, this is misleading. Young people are more likely to be killed by police. Men are much, much more likely to be killed by police. For whatever reason, people are not worked up about young people being more likely to be killed by police. And despite the fact that the disparity between men and women being killed by US police is much much higher than that for blacks and whites, not many seem to want to protest that. Perhaps "male lives matter" doesn't scan.

It may not even be the case that black people being killed by police at twice the expected rate is unjust. According to The US Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1980 and 2008, 52% of the homicides in the US were committed by black people. Black people and white people are not the same population. By definition the black population is more violent if they are 13% of the US population but are responsible for 52% of the homicides. Perhaps people will challenge this 52% figure. Maybe there are people who will say that any police killing, for whatever reason, is always unjust, that no police killing is ever justified.

Search for something like "channel4 factcheck-black-americans-commit-crime"

"And yes, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black offenders committed 52 per cent of homicides recorded in the data between 1980 and 2008."

I'm interested in why you choose to go with the nine times statistic and not the two times statistic, which to me seems more representative.

In reply to by 18 March 2024

Peter Adamson on 20 March 2024


Thanks for this and the other comments you put up! I find your comments on the Guardian stat pretty convincing; for the one on lynching it seems like you say we misleadingly suggest that the number of black lynchings was about 4K, but then your calculations bring us back to that being approximately correct. I guess your point is that white people were lynched too, though, which is a point worth making. Anyway there's no doubt that the phenomena in question are heinous and worth all of the force that Wells put into her campaign of protest, and that they live on today.

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