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.Surprised and frightened that African Americans had defended themselves, whites concocted a false story purporting law enforcement officers had been fired upon by blacks while carrying out their regular duties.
It was in this same year that racial tensions would climax over competition between an established white grocery store and the opening, across the street, of the African American–owned People’s Grocery Company in the African American section of town.
The success of the People’s Grocery Company embittered a number of white residents who viewed its success as a threat to the racial power dynamics in Memphis.
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.
The creditors had the place closed and a few days later what remained of the stock was sold at an auction.
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.At the beginning of March, a group of whites, including law enforcement, pretended they were looking for criminals harbored at the People’s Grocery and violently attacked the store.Aware of the threat, the People’s Grocery had armed men who were keeping watch and they fired on the white men, wounding three and killing none.Thus, with the aid of the city and county authorities and the daily papers, that white grocer had indeed put an end to this rival Negro grocer as well as to his business.” For Wells, lynching was intricately linked to the protection of white economic power.It was an unofficial tool of the state to thwart black economic advancement.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.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.After six weeks of lagging revenue, the local white-owned railway company approached Wells to ask for her support to get blacks to ride the streetcars again.In the following exchange with the railway company, Wells argues that nineteenth-century capitalism depended on racial violence: “‘Why, it was just six weeks ago that the lynching took place.’ [Wells said.] ‘But the streetcar company had nothing to do with the lynching,’ said one of the men.