Thursday, June 30, 2016

August 18, 1897: Plain Speech by a Georgia Lady.

Today we feature an article about the speech Mrs. Rebecca Felton gave when addressing the Georgia State Agriculture Society which met on Tybee Island on August 12, 1897. Mrs Felton was a big proponent of the Lost Cause myth including spreading the belief that white women were in mortal danger of "black brutes." If you are interested in learning more about Rebecca Felton here is a good place to start. 

This article is found in The Wilmington Messenger (Wilmington, N. C.) dated August 18, 1897:


Mrs. W. H. Felton is a Georgian lady of education, intelligence and we doubt not refinement. Her husband has served in the Federal House with credit to himself and his state. Mrs. Felton is thoughtful and observant. The Messenger within a fortnight discussing the raping outrages and lynching violence, said that white women living in the rural districts orin [sic] exposed suburbs of towns and cities were all the time uneasy. Between the perambulating tramps and the prowling black wolves they were in constant terror. Mrs. Felton evidently sees the matter as we stated it to be, for she insists that the wives and daughters in the country homes need protection from bad men, whether white tramps or lustful black brutes. She thinks it much more humane to consider the conditions at home now than to send spare millions into heathen lands. She is anxious to protect the unprotected white girls of character on the secluded farms and to put an end to the infernal lynchings. She says "if these poor maidens are destroyed in a land that their fathers died to save from the invader's foot, I say the shame lies with the survivors who fail to be protectors for the children of their dead comrades."

She is not unfriendly to missions, but she loves the white girls in their homes who lives at the mercy of predatory scoundrels. She writes:

"I do not discount foreign missions. I simply say the heathen are at your door, when our young maidens are destroyed in sight of your opulence and magnificence and when your temples of justice are put to shame by the lynchers' rope. If your court houses are shams and frauds and the law's delay is the villain's bulwark, then I say let judgment begin at the house of God and redeem this country from the cloud of shame that rests upon it!"

This bright, pure Georgian woman of the Anglo-Saxon race writes with some kindling eloquence as she contemplates the cruel outrages and the cry of the helpless for protection. The law is powerless it looks like. Nearly 11,000 criminals last year in the United States, of whom thousands were murderers and rapists, and but some 140 executed. It is no wonder then that lynchings occur, and that the potent voice of woman pleads for mercy and protection for her sex against violence in its most fearful and damning form. Hear her as she unites her voice with the cries and implorings of the unprotected, fearing, defenceless ones—the mothers and maidens:

"The crying need of woman on the farms is security in their lives, in their homes. Strong, able-bodied men have told me they stopped farming and moved to town because their women folks were scared to death if left alone.

"I say it is a disgrace in a free country when such things are a public reproach and the best part of God's creation are trembling and crying for protection in their own homes. And I say, with due respect to all who listen to me that so long as your politics takes the colored man into your embrace on election day to control his vote; and so long as the politicians use liquor to befuddle his understanding and make him think he is a man and a brother; when they propose to defeat the opposition by honey-snuggling him at the polls, and so long as he is made familiar with their dirty tricks in politics, so long will lynchings prevail because the causes of it grow and increase."

Surely, surely something is wrong, something is very rotten politically when these things exist. it is time for an awakening, for a radical change, from the roots upward. In North Carolina a few thousand wicked, mean white fellows are working a great wrong and are paving the way to a war between the races. As some one said the other day, in print—some exchange the Messenger copied from—whenever the combine is in power in North Carolina, the trouble with negroes begin. The lynchings have broken out like the measles since Russel became governor and his set went into law making and grub distributing. In this city trials of justice are impossible. The city is in the hands under the entire control of a few whites and their myrmiddons. it is the worst policed town or city, we doubt not, on the Aemerican [sic] continent. Whose fault is it? The taxes are heavy. How are they distributed. The sight of a policeman at night is indeed a curiosity. What proportion of the police are negroes?

Mrs. Felton reads of crimes in North Carolina—of recent rapes, and after two years or more of no lynchings until the one the other day at Asheville, and she writes:

"The time is at hand when the good people of North Carolina are ready to say to the republican politicians and others who affiliate with them:  'You find means to control the negro vote to degrade the state and put yourself in office. You must find means to stop the crime that invites lynching by the ignorant and malicious of your supporters, or you cannot escape responsibility of their actions. You have encouraged the ignorant negroes in thinking that the success of the party of which his race composes nine-tenths insures him against the just penalty of his wrong-doing. You have told him that the whites were his enemies. In his ignorance he has interpreted this to give him license to degrade and debauch. You are his teacher. You must correct your teachings, or you cannot escape the wrath of an outraged people."

That is a brave, true, we doubt not, religious woman, born in the south, who is thus putting in a strong, white light the truth as she sees it, and as any fair, faithful, true white man in North Carolina must see it. The white men who control the negroes are responsible for their crimes.

In this connection let us copy what an able, greatly respected jurist of Georgia, one of Mrs. Felton's honored countrymen, the late Chief Justice Bleakley, held. He said that "those who cimmit [sic] rape or murder, put themselves outside of law and follow their own will instead of abiding by the will of society as expressed in the ordinances of government. Those who lynch these criminals do precisely the same thing; they put themselves outside of law and follow their own will of society as expressed in the ordinances of the government."

The thing for all good citizens, of all parties and races, to do is to put a stop to those outrages against society and against humanity and against law. It seems from the ably edited Savannah Press that Mrs. Felton's paper read to the farmers on Tybee island created something of a sensation. The Press says of her:

"Mrs. Felton is a strong writer and a very interesting person. She touches nothing that she doesn't illuminate. Whether we agrees with her or not one is held by her earnestness and power. The fact that Mrs. Felton was surrounded and cheered after her paper was read and that she has been elected a life member of the society shows that her efforts were appreciated."

It is very unfortunate for any people or state when lynchings are resorted to in order that the failures of the courts may be remedied. if it should long continue it would prove disastrous and the only appeal would be to the heated mob. But with twelve men to be a jury and all to agree, and with the possibility , if not certainty, that one rascal may get in who is put there specially to prevent a righteous verdict where comes in the opportunity of justice and punishment? Things are badly mixed and twisted and need purifying and straightening.

If you are interested in learning more about Governor Russell of North Carolina perhaps to understand the context of the article, you can find information here.

Thank you for joining me, and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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