Categories
Family

TIL about an 1898 speech given by prominent feminist Rebecca L. Felton that justified the lynching of black men on the basis of false rape accusations

On August 11, 1898, Rebecca L. Felton, a feminist advocate and former slave owner, gave a speech to the Georgia Agricultural Society regarding the issues supposedly facing the wives of farmers. Out of all of these alleged issues, the one Felton pinpointed as the worst was “the black rapist”. She also attempted to divide men on the basis of race by challenging white husbands to lynch black men, as this was, according to Felton, the only way to protect their wives. The haunting final line of this speech reads:

“When there is not enough religion in the pulpit to organize a crusade against sin; nor justice in the court house to promptly punish crime; nor manhood enough in the nation to put a sheltering arm about innocence and virtue – if it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from the ravening human beasts – then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.”

Following this speech, prominent newspaper editor Alexander L. Manly, a biracial black man, attempted to rebuke Felton’s demonization of black men by publishing an editorial asserting that consensual relations between black men and white women were a reality. Many southern whites did not take this well, with white supremacist paramilitary organizations such as the Red Shirts spinning Manly’s words against his cause.

Months after this debacle, on November 10, 1898, the Wilmington insurrection took place. This massacre saw the murder of as many as 300 black civilians in Wilmington, North Carolina, the home of Alexander L. Manly’s newspaper, the *Wilmington Daily Record*. The office building of the *Record* was burned to the ground by a mob, and Manly was run out of town. The democratically-elected multiracial city council of Wilmington was removed and replaced with ex-Confederate sympathizers, in one of the worst post-Reconstruction racist incidents in American history.

In addition to its impact on the Wilmington insurrection, Felton’s racist and misandrist tirade against black men would contribute to the slew of lynchings in the United States during the lowest point of American race relations. Between 1883 and 1941, an estimated 4,467 people were lynched, 4,368 of whom were male and 3,265 of whom were black. Many of these lynchings, most famously that of 14-year-old black teenager Emmett Till, were motivated by false accusations of sexual advances upon white women by black men.