In 1900 Ida B. Wells reported on the events in New Orleans which led to the eventual killing of Robert Charles and, which along the way, terrorized the African American citizens of that city. After quoting in detail the newspaper accounts of the vigilante justice inflicted by white citizens on their black neighbors, Wells ends by scrutinizing her white readers.
Men and women of America, are you proud of this record which the Anglo-Saxon race has made for itself? Your silence seems to say that you are. Your silence encourages a continuance of this sort of horror. Only by earnest, active, united endeavor to arouse public sentiment can we hope to put a stop to these demonstrations of American barbarism.
It’s a poignant indictment, over one hundred years later, as we see another black man – Alton Sterling – lynched in Louisiana by white police officers. Does our silence sound any different now than it did then? Wells follows the above passage with a table tracking “Negroes that have been lynched” by year, from 1882-1899. The lowest year was 1839, with 39 deaths; the highest was 1892 with 241 murdered. Last year, at least 102 unarmed black people were killed by the police.
Are we proud of the record our race has made for itself? Our silence seems to say we are.