The Red Record by Ida B. Wells-Barnett

The Red Record is a pamphlet compiled by Ida B. Wells-Barnett in 1892, which recounts the three eras of atrocity in the South of the United States and gives the excuses that the Whites gave for each of these three eras. The article details the struggles that Black people underwent after their Emancipation from 200 years of slavery. The central idea behind the research is to reveal the level of mistreatment and racism during this period and to reveal the reasons behind these injustices; the Whites viewed Blacks as inferior and were afraid that they would increase in number and thus dominate them. The article also details the lynching that occurred during this period without the due legal trials and procedures. White people simply took the law into their won hands, while the authorities condoned it. The author also states that during slavery, Black people were made to submit to the Whites and were treated in a cruelly, but were never lynched because the slaves body belonged to his master, hence by lynching the slave the master would be bringing a loss upon himself. Blacks would be lynched for any crimes; major or minor, proven or suspected. For instance, the Whites would lynch a man for wife-beating, insulting whites, self-defense and many other unrelated crimes.

The mass murders of Negroes occurred in three eras. In the first era, the Whites alleged that they had to use force to suppress the riots of Black people. During this era, the Whites would make claims that Black people planning a revolution and hence something had to be done to prevent it. Their claims were unsubstantial as the revolutions they kept predicting never occurred and hence they had to look for another better reason to kill Blacks. This led to the second era where the Whites murdered Blacks in order to prevent ‘Negro domination’; Black people had just been given the right to vote and this led to fear that they would use their vote to upstage Whites. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the Regulators and the lawless mobs were formed during this period. These groups viciously attacked Black people, instilling fear among them and killing thousands with no good reason. The government neglected the Blacks because it had granted them freedom, but failed to provide them with protection from the consequences of their emancipation. In the third era, Whites used the excuse that they were avenging for the crimes that Black people had committed against women. Black men were charged with rape if they were found engaging in sexual activity with a White woman, if a relationship existed between a White woman and the Black man, the man would be charged with having the intention to rape her and thus be lynched. The Whites did not believe that a consensual relationship could take place between a Black man and a White woman. Thus, whenever such a relationship was unearthed, it was disguised as rape and the Black man would be lynched.

In one case, a mentally unstable Black man killed a child. Police officers and one Bishop exaggerated the facts of the murder so much that it garnered the attention of the public and sparked their fury. They claimed that the man had tortured the child and torn him apart limb by limb before killing it. The public was angered by the animalistic act, and hence intensified the pressure to lynch him. On the day of his lynching, there was mad excitement everywhere; schools and shops were clothes and people traveled from all over the country to see the Black man being punished. Hot iron brands were poked into his body from his feet to his face and he was burned to ashes afterwards, as both adults and children watched and cheered on. The most unfair thing about this is that firstly, the man was not of sound mind therefore the punishment meted on him was too cruel; he should have been placed in an asylum. Secondly, thousands of murders occurred daily at that time, and these murderers are not made to suffer as much humiliation and torture as the Black man suffered on this day.

In another example of stark injustice, a Black man named Julian had killed a judge and escaped never to be found again, despite the intensive searches that were conducted. Unable to find him, the authorities decided to arrest his family instead; his mother, two sisters and three brothers. The mother and two sisters were released, but the brothers were made to pay for the crime; they were all hung. As if this was not enough, a fourth person, who is suspected to not even have known Julius was also tortured and killed in relation to the murder of the judge. This shows that during this time, authorities did not see any value in the lives of Black people, evidenced by the fact that four innocent people were made to die inhumanely for the crime of one person.

In Indiana, the son of a wealthy Black man named Butler impregnated their White servant-girl and is assumed to have assisted her to procure an abortion. When the authorities found out about the girl’s abortion both father and son were arrested, even though they were not certain if the father had played a role in the abortion. The father was granted bail and went back to his home, while the son remained in jail in Lawrenceville. That night, an angry mob decided to hasten the justice system for themselves by lynching the son, but when they went to his home and did not find him, they lynched his father instead. The leaders of the mob were neither interrogated nor punished for this inhumane and unjust act. This goes on to show that Black people were not protected by the law, injustices committed upon them were ignored, a factor that encouraged the perpetuation of this injustices. Black people were also lynched with very flimsy reasons; for instance in Louisiana a Black man named Dave Jackson had beaten his wife – she was not seriously injured, neither did she die; this is usually treated as a misdemeanor for which the punishment is a fine and a strict warning.

Still in another case of the punishment being too severe for the crime committed, five people; three men and two women were hang for being suspected of poisoning a well; it had not been proved that they had actually done it, the authorities only suspected them. The case was brought against them in court and even before they had been sentenced, the Whites decided to take matters into their own hands and lynch the men. As if this was not enough, the Christian White people demanded that the two women be lynched, for no apparent reason, since the courts had acquitted them for no evidence of being involved in the crime. The fifth person was an acquaintance of this family who was also hung the following day without due reason. This shows that Christians were not exempt from these inhumane acts; infact, there was no comments whatsoever from the clergy about this matter, Black people did not have the support of the Christian community or the legal system. They had to endure the injustices that were cast upon them daily.

The red record is based on research that the author, Ida B. Wells, did no lynching between the years 1892 – 1894. The author did this research through newspaper and journal articles, which have been written by White people detailing the horrific acts of torture and injustice that the Blacks are subjected to. The author also obtains further evidence from the Chicago Tribune of January 1, 1894, which compiled the data in one article. The research is also based on Frederick Douglas’s research on the three eras of Southern inhumanities and the excuses that were given for each of the excuses that were given for each of these eras. The author takes these excuses and develops them, giving her own view of these issues.

The main objective of the red record was to inform the world about the shocking, bizarre and cruel acts of inhumanity that took place after the Emancipation of Black slaves. She wanted to end the cruel treatment of Blacks and to fight for their right against oppression as equal and freed citizens of the United States. She achieves these objectives, through this 100-page pamphlet, which explains the lynching of Blacks by Whites in graphic detail in order to expose these events to the readers of the article, and hence effect a response that will end social injustices.






















Fradin, D. B. & Fradin, J. B. (2000). Ida B. Wells: mother of the civil rights movement. New York, NY: Clarion Books.

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