Southern Horrors

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The excuses whites used during Reconstruction to torture and murder newly freed African Americans were as false as they were numerous. In Southern Horrors and Other Writings, Wells relates many of these. Excuses ranging from sassing whites to rape to murder prove that "colored men and women [were] lynched for almost any offense" (Wells 78). According to Wells, the three most common excuses used to victimize African Americans during and after Reconstruction were that the victim had participated in a riot, the victim was a threat to white domination in government, or the victim had raped a white female. Each of these reasons Wells disclaims. The first excuse is easily disproved, as "no Negro rioter was ever apprehended and proven guilty, and no dynamite ever recorded the black man's protest against oppression and wrong" (76). In other words, no riots were ever transpired that caused threat to white supremacy. African American domination of government soon lost its appeal as an excuse to lynch because laws were passed eliminating any chance of such a scenario. "Southern governments all subverted and the Negro actually eliminated from all participation in state and national elections, there could be no longer an excuse for killing Negroes. to prevent 'Negro Domination"' (77). However the African Americans were still made victims of horrendous crimes. Thus the third excuse of rape surfaced. This excuse, once accepted as true, "placed [the African American] beyond the pale of human sympathy" and the violence increased(78). The charge of rape, therefore, was used in many cases to lynch innocent African American men. So many cases in fact, that it was soon obvious to the world that this was just a cover for mob violence. Indeed, the victim's innocence was often proved after his brutal death.
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