To Tell the Truth Freely by Mia Bay

To Tell the Truth Freely by Mia Bay

Author:Mia Bay
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published: 2009-06-13T04:00:00+00:00

Two ladies are represented sitting under a tree at Reigate, and, after some preliminary remarks on the terrible subject of lynching, Miss Willard laughingly replies by cracking a joke. And the concluding sentence of the interview shows the object is not to determine how best they may help the negro who is being hanged, shot, and burned, but “to guard Miss Willard’s reputation.”

Wells’s answer was effective in the short run. The British papers sided with her against the “two prominent white women” who seemed to have “joined hands in an effort to crush an insignificant colored woman.”88 Somerset’s close friendship with Willard undercut the effectiveness of her defense of Willard, and Wells’s British friends rallied around her, organizing a breakfast in her honor with sixteen members of Parliament.

Subsequently invited to dinner at the House of Commons by William Woodall, a Liberal member of Parliament, Wells spent her last days in London in a triumphant round of parties and meetings with British reformers. On the last night of her stay came the final victory. On the eve of her departure, Wells’s English friends and supporters founded an organization called the British Anti-Lynching Committee. Designed to carry on her work after her departure, it was made up of a diverse coalition of reformers, whose ranks included twenty Liberal members of Parliament as well as several members of the British nobility. Led by the Duke of Argyll, it would investigate “lynching and mob outrages in America,” with the aim of giving “expression to public opinion in condemnation of such outrages in whatever way may seem best calculated to assist the cause of humanity and civilization.”89

Wells left Britain having made a lasting impact. Over the next year and a half the Anti-Lynching Committee would send letters of protest to the governors of all the Southern states, while also flooding those officials with more than two thousand newspapers, petitions, and other documents containing antilynching material. It also corresponded with black editors across the South gathering information on lynching, and at one point planned to send a subcommittee to the United States to investigate further—a proposal that was greeted with howls of outrage from American politicians in both the North and South. In the end, only one member visited, but the committee had made its point. Far more prominently placed than Wells, the British Anti-Lynching Committee would exert enough pressure on American state leaders to ensure that the impact of Wells’s British antilynching campaign outlived her visits there and gave her cause an unprecedented new visibility at home.

After three months and 102 public appearances in Britain, Wells brought her antilynching campaign back home. While her British backers were anxious to see her “follow up the advantage which their moral support had given,” Wells was utterly exhausted. In desperate need of rest, she booked the most leisurely and roundabout voyage to the United States she could find, traveling to Canada via the Gulf of St. Lawrence and then taking a train to New York. She may also


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