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May 12, 1899
Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

May 12, 1899

Guest post by Nathan Volkert, undergraduate student at Iowa State University.

On May 12, 1899, the Iowa State Bystander published an article regarding lynching after one occurred in Georgia. The article was titled “Lynching Condemned.” The article gathers the voices of editors across the nation from many popular black newspapers all speaking out against the event. (Click to view full page via Library of Congress.)

The event in question is the lynching of Sam Hose (also known as Sam Wilkes), a black man from Georgia. He was accused of killing his employer, Alfred Cranford, and assaulting Cranford’s wife.105 Instead of getting a fair trial under the law, Hose was taken by a lynch mob, despite pleas of authorities, hanged, maimed, and then burned alive. People from the mob also took parts of the body as souvenirs. The article has many descriptions of the event calling it brutal, unnecessary, barbaric, savage, and from the dark ages just to name a few.  

The tension in the article is very apparent. At this time, blacks still faced segregation and racism. The brutal murder of a black man clearly seems to consolidate the anger, fear, and frustrations of the black community across the nation. Something really interesting about this is that none of the excerpts make an effort to defend Sam Hose. Rather, most of them focus on bringing out an anger toward the needlessly violent nature of the mob and take time to condemn lynching as unjust.

Another thing that really made this article stand out is how many different voices are presented in it. Twenty-one different sources are quoted in the article, and the unity across the nation, seen through the numerous sources, urges justice for black citizens. At the same time, however, there are stark contrasts in perspectives, for instance, the Afro-America Citizen asking America to take a stand and give justice such as prison time to the lynch mobs. On the other hand, the Atlanta, Georgia, Voice of Mission urged blacks to not enroll in the army saying America is not fighting for the black population at all.

Another commonality seen throughout the piece is how many of the sources brought religion, especially Christianity, into the discussion. Many seem to be seeking to appeal to religious beliefs and to use this persuasion to provoke action amongst the religious groups. Sources used in the article, such as the Baptist Truth and Christian Recorder, also show how religion is used in popular media to persuade readers to pursue higher standards.

This article is a great example of how a newspaper can fight for social justice. While the horrific events happened in Georgia, newspapers from across the nation reported on it and urged for change. A unity can be seen here fighting for justice for black citizens and to lessen the fears stirring throughout the black communities, especially those in the South. It is also a great example of how horrible some of the conditions were. It is hard to imagine that in 1899 black citizens were still being lynched, burned alive, and even, as the Baltimore, Maryland, Afro-American cited in this article mentioned, the burnt body pieces of the lynched individual being sold as souvenirs. From a better understanding of how poor conditions were for the black community, to seeing a unification of blacks across the nation before the civil rights movement, this article gives extra insight into the past struggles in America.