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From small suburban cities like Ferguson, Missouri, to big metropolitan centers like New York, black men and women have been brutally killed by law enforcement officers who have escaped punishment.In response, citizens have taken to the streets to protest, many carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter” as a counter to the seeming disposability of black lives at the hands of law enforcement. Scholars, journalists, and concerned citizens have responded to the crisis in various ways, with different sides blaming each other for the loss of life and/or for the loss of material goods.After the lynching, Wells conveys their economic underpinnings: “The mob took possession of the People’s Grocery Company, helping themselves to food and drink, and destroyed what they could not eat or steal.
Lynching and mob violence were tactics of economic subordination, used to protect white economic power and to ensure a captive black labor force.
Wells’ anti-lynching work began in 1892 while she was living in Memphis and editing , a newspaper where she discussed controversial issues of local and national significance, even when harshly criticizing the African American and white communities.
provides a new way to think about black death and its relationship to modern capitalism and white supremacy.
According to Wells, the logic of lynching was not criminal; it was economic.
If lynchings were not always the response to rape, what other reasons existed for lynching African Americans?
Wells’s inquiry led her to conclude that concerns about economic competition between the white grocer and her friends’ grocery store were the real reason behind the brutal lynching.What is the relationship between racial violence and capitalism?Today, this question is especially important given the racist police violence that has rocked the nation and weakened already-fragile black communities.In the latest essay in our “Reading Racial Conflict” series, Megan Ming Francis draws attention to the extraordinary work of Ida B. In the late nineteenth century, Wells exposed the extent of racial violence in the United States by documenting lynching and then disseminating her findings through her books, journalism, and activism.Ming Francis emphasizes a further innovation by Wells—i.e., how she connected lynchings to the economic interests and status anxieties of white southerners, as well as the relevance of this connection to understanding contemporary racial conflicts.Wells’s writings reveal it was this volatile mix that fueled the increase of lynchings and mob violence.Despite threats on her life in Memphis due to her activism and reporting, Wells was convinced a lot of power lay in the media and moved to New York where she continued writing: this time for T.‘It is owned by northern capitalists.’ ‘And run by southern lynchers,’ I retorted.‘We have learned that every white man of any standing in town knew of the plan and consented of the lynching of our boys.’” Worried about being left behind in the industrial revolution taking place in the North, whites in the post-Reconstruction South needed cheap labor and deeply resented economic competition from African Americans.The lynchings created numerous unanswered questions for Wells since they were contrary to the accepted belief that lynchings were punishment for rape.But her three friends were not charged with that crime.