An Alabama Lynching

Source Type: Newspaper
Publisher: New York Times
Place of publication: New York City, New York
Date of publication: 1916-02-06

Denunciation of the latest out-break of mob violence.

To the Editor of The New York Times:

I quote from an editorial in this morning’s Advertiser, which is the most admirable and noteworthy for its fearlessness on a recent lynching:

Who are we that we vilify Russia for its cruelty? We have excoriated Georgia, for its depressing record in mob and personal violence. Lynching is a crime  whether committed in Alabama or Georgia. Alabama has no reason to plume itself on its respect for law and order when we are only less guilty in that we do not have as many lynchings as Georgia does.

The usual excuse for lynching was missing in the Sumter County affair. The negro boy had not committed “the usual crime.” He had even committed murder. The apologists for lynching, in this case, can not take refuge in the explanation of such a crime of violence by boasting that they were protecting the honor of their women. The negro was a thief; he attacked a man who interfered while he was stealing. A double crime was committed, he had stolen and he had committed assault to murder.

Bur there are courts in Sumter County. Were the courts not competent to deal with two crimes which unfortunately are committed daily in Alabama? The lynching was not an execution of the law; it was the commission of a general and public crime, to avenge a private wrong, with which the courts would have dealt fairly and justly.

Two small crimes were smothered in a greater crime, which will hurt the community to a greater degree, because the participants in it were numerous and are very probably sustained by an abnormal local sentiment.

A great many Northerners, like myself, expected that with prohibition lynching would die out down here. But this is not the case at all. Lynching is not committed by drunken men in blind frenzy but deliberately, out of a settled belief that is is the only way to act for the best interests of  the community.

The newspapers must teach the people, as those are doing who are warring against illiteracy and trying to raise the public ideals of public matters, or preventing “no account drunken daddies”  from moving from their farms to the mill towns because “they are not willing to make a living by the sweat of their brows, and putting their innocent little children in pawn that they may live in idleness.” ( Howard of Georgia, in Congress)

Teach the people higher ideals, educate them, and slowly lynching bees and shootings will stop.

In the North homicides are frequent- too frequent. We have been denominated a “first-class homicidal nation.” but as a rule, it is not, ( as in the south) the farming class, but the riff raff of the cities, who do the shooting.

It is a great pleasure to visit a beautiful city like Montgomery and see the fine houses, well-dressed people, hand golf clubs, multitudinous automobiles, and to note the general air or prosperity prevalent. To the superficial traveler it seems that everything is highly civilized. Then comes along a lynching, as recently, of a negro lad of 16 for stealing, which is telegraphed all over the north, and which gives bad and ( if I may say so) not a correct or just, impression of the true South and it’s condition.

John Seymour Wood.