Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Lesson Plans > To Kill a Mockingbird

Back to Lesson Plans

Greensboro, Alabama

[Detail] Greensboro, Alabama

Clippings from Some of our Leading Southern Papers

NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text of A sermon on lynch law and raping : preached by Rev. E.K. Love, D.D., at 1st. African Baptist Church, Savannah, Ga., of which he is pastor, November 5th, 1893 can be found in African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A.P.Murray Collection, 1818-1907

Excerpt begins ...

{Begin page no. 13}


"At first lynch law was only resorted to as a punishment for felonious outrages upon women. But the spirit of lawlessness never stands still. Give it an inch and it will take a mile. The men who delight in lynching have grown bolder, and they now murder the kinsmen of a criminal who refuse to reveal his hiding place, and whip a woman for the crime of being true to her religious convictions, and burn gin houses because their owners will not hold their cotton until the price reaches ten cents. All this would indicate that our civilization is only skin deep. There is an inexhaustible layer of barbarism just under the surface, and a mere scratch reveals it.-- Atlanta Constitution.

"Mob law is breeding a race of savages. The young men and boys who engage in this bloody business will as surely grow up to be blood thirsty and cruel as the tiger will become a man eater after tasting human blood. Unless these scenes shall end and the rule of law be restored, the mob will drive all the better class of people from the South and give it over to outlawry and ignorance. The evil has progressed so far that none but a blind man can be insensible to the enormity of the peril that hangs like a black cloud over the Southern States. The prevailing conditions are surely tending to a crisis of blood and horror. The earnest, thoughtful, and patriotic men of the South must give themselves to the work of redemption as to a task appointed of God and blessed with His benediction. -- Memphis Daily Commercial


The Roanoke Times denies that Roanoke, during the recent popular outbreak against the lawful authorities was a mobbed-ruled city, and characterizes the statement of the Index-Appeal , and other papers to that effect as false.

The Times should be more careful in the choice of its language at a time when it has everything to palliate and nothing to gain by controversy. Its attempted vindication is neither ingenious nor ingenuous. If a city is not mob-ruled when a mob takes a prisoner from the lawful authorities, and hangs and burns him, and then creates a state of terror, such as to cause officials and other persons to seek safety in

{Begin page no. 14}

flight and concealment, in the name of common sense when is a city mob-ruled and what is mob-rule?-- Petersburg, (Va.) Daily Index Appeal

It will not do to say that such cases of violence are due to any fear that justice will not be done. There was no question that these two murderers, if caught, would be tried speedily and punished justly. But that was not what the mob wanted. They wanted the sight of blood. It was the instinct of cruelty which actuated them. They were not civilized much less were they Christian people. They were savages, barbarians! We talk of Kurdish atrocities, of African cannibalism, of Indian tortures, but nothing more atrocious or horrible is enacted anywhere by any savages on the face of the earth. Are we a nation of barbarians?-- New York Independent

"We do not believe that there is any section of the South, however small, where mob law is endorsed by public sentiment; and yet the men who make up murderous mobs go unpunished. Law-abiding men are in the majority everywhere, and yet they permit the lawless to defy the authorities and treat the State with contempt. Why is this the case? The reason is plain and humiliating. Good men are cowards while bad men are aggressive. The good submit with a protest, while the bad run rough shod all over opposition. It is time for southern manhood to wake up. We boast of our chivalry and we have a right to. Our people have a history to be proud of, but every heroic deed of the past but brands with deeper disgrace the howling mobs, who, safe in their numbers, attack and murder defenseless men. If our laws do not punish crime we should mend them. We certainly should not turn over our temples of Justice to men who are unworthy to enter them except to receive punishment for their crime.-- Jacksonville, (Fla.) Daily Times-Union

I confess that as a citizen of the South I feel very much humiliated when I read such as this about my home and these are but a few out of many such things that are being said about the South.


II. Mob violence inexcusable and all matters should be determined in a lawful assembly

There was no need of lynching the Apostles. The Ephesians had everything their own way. The Apostles had, at most, but few friends in Ephesus, and perhaps none, who would interpose for them in a public way. There was scarcely an Ephesian who was not in some way personally interested in the cause to which the Apostles were defendants; hence any jury that might have been selected would have been prejudiced against the defendants, and upon any technical grounds that the law could have been made to sanction, would have brought in a verdict of guilty. They had the privilege of, and they were honor bound to try them by their law. There might have been some excuse for lynching had they been compelled to try them by alien laws. If, as the Jews said to Pilate on the trial if Christ, they could have truthfully said, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die," then there might have been an excuse for lynching. Lynching could have

{Begin page no. 15}

been and can be defended on no other ground than that punishment by law is impossible. It will not do to say that the provocation is such that the lynchers are justifiable. That dishonors our education, disgraces our civilization, slanders our Christianity, disrespects our law, undermines our government, and declares our people to be a set of ungovernable, ferocious brutes, hinders the development of the greatness of our country and as blind Samson at the festival at Gaza, throws down our temple of liberty upon its votaries.

If when a man is arrested for rape, a mob is raised to rescue him from the clutches of the law, then should a counter mob be raised and kill the wretch rather than have him escape justice, then it would be far more more excusable.

In this country, situated as the Negroes are, a case of lynching is never justifiable. If the woman assaulted is white, there can be no possible escape for the Negroes. The Judge is white, the jury is white, the lawyers are white, the Sheriff is white, the Jailer is white, and as Doctors Broadus and Haygood say, race blood will assert himself,--the Negroes must die. It will not do to say that our people are so weak, vicious, brutal, satanic, and uncivilized that they have no faith in their own laws, which they, themselves, have made, and cannot wait with even enough patience for their courts to convene to try their criminals, that they prefer to stain their hands in human blood in unlawful assemblies. To say this is to admit that it is unsafe to live among us, and that we resort to murdering and the most heartless outrages for amusement; that we determine no trying cases in a lawful assembly; that we respect law so long as it suits us and when we are not mad; but when the trying provocation comes, as Dr. Haygood puts it, we get "insane for the time," and hence it must follow that we are not responsible for our action under this spasm of "insanity."


The Lord only knows how far this "insanity" business will go, and He alone knows to what extent it has and will injure this country and especially our lovely southland, the paradise of the globe. Just how much this "insanity" argument palliates our awful crimes in the eyes of the civilized world, Dr. Haygood is better prepared to say than I am. If these burnings and murders are put on the "insanity" doctrine for a defense, I plead for a house of correction for the many hundreds of spasmodic "insane" people that abound in our favored country. I plead not for the criminals. I have no pity for them. I plead that these matters should be determined in a lawful assembly.

Brute force is a dangerous element in any government. It is destructive to prosperity, happiness, and liberty and is the parent of no good. Every good citizen should discard and unite to exterminate it. The Almighty has ordained that matters of difference should be adjusted in a lawful assembly, that reasonable men should implead reasonable men before reasonable men in a lawful assembly.

The officers of the law are just as much opposed to these crimes as those who compose these lawless mobs. Lynching is as much a violation of the law as raping. There should be a resort to law however atrocious the crime charged may be, as it then would be less likely that the innocent would be killed. It cannot be denied that the lynchers sometimes have killed the wrong man. This could and would have been avoided in a painstaking, lawful assembly. However enraged a people may be at the assault upon a woman, surely they do

{Begin page no. 16}

not want to kill the innocent and this can best be avoided in a lawful assembly.

There can be nothing more horrifying to a refined, honest, fair-minded, law abiding, upright Christian gentleman than the riddling with bullets, hanging and burning of an innocent man, and yet this is possible under a system of lynch law. Indeed I regret to state that this has occurred. The lynchers can hardly justify themselves by saying that the man confessed his crime. He did not do so in a lawful assembly nor in the presence of lawful witnesses. For these men, themselves, were assembled for the purpose of committing an unlawful act. Before the bar of civilized opinion, they stand charged of the foulest murder known to the annals of history, and hence, I gravely doubt that they are competent witnesses.

The great American liberty-loving people will not wait much longer for these outrages to stop. They will arise in their majesty and might and demand a halt to these savage outrages.


The action of these mobs show that they are not after a mere punishment of these crimes, but that they are seeking in the most barbarous manner, revenge. For they hang, shoot and burn. Either one of these deaths is barbarous enough. I think that no tribunal on earth would give sentence for more than one of these at the time and yet our civilized, Christian people give all of them at once. This shows that these men are utterly unprepared to take the law into their hands. If they are justifiable in one case, they would be justifiable in all.

Pushing this argument further to its logical conclusion we would have no need for courts to administer the law, for Legislatures, nor Congress to make laws, and hence every lawful assembly would be destroyed in our country and every man would be a law unto himself and would punish crime as his senseless passion might dictate. Indeed, no man in this country would be safe.

Law is that principle which governs a people and regulates their affairs and promotes their truest. Wise and equitable laws, fairly interpreted and impartially administered, will meet every emergency of a people. Happily for us, we can boast of such laws and there is absolutely no need to over-ride them. Lynch law is a sad reflection upon the courts. The lynchers in effect say that the officers of the law are unreliable; dishonest and cannot be relied on to punish criminals in accordance with their oath. Surely the lynchers will not presume to say that they know more about the law than the officers of the law. I ask, therefore, in all seriousness, what is the objection to the law taking its course? I have yet to see or hear a reasonable excuse for lynching and surely a thing for which not a single reason can be given ought to be abandoned.

III. We are in danger to be called in question for our conduct

Webster says, "Lynch law is the practice of punishing men for crimes or offences, by private, unauthorized persons, without a legal trial. The term is said to be derived from a Virginia Farmer, named Lynch, who thus took the law into his own hands."

Chamber's Encyclopaedia.-"Lynch-law, the name given in the United States of America to the trial and punishment of offenders in popular assemblies without reference to the ordinary laws of the country. This barbarous mode of administering justice has always

{Begin page no. 17}

more or less prevailed in every country in times of great popular excitement, and has been necessarily resorted to in countries newly settled, where the power of the civil government is not yet sufficiently established. The name is derived by Webster from a Virginia farmer; but a more interesting history is found in the story of James Lynch, mayor of galley about 1495, who in the spirit of Brutes with his own hand, hanged his son from a window for murder."


"Lynch-law, a common phrase used to express the vengeance of a mob, inflicting an injury and committing an outrage upon a person suspected of some offense."

The lynchers in effect say that our country is newly settled and is not yet sufficiently strong to punish its criminals. The silence and inactivity of our authorities beg the question and in effect say that while they very deeply deplore these outrages, the outlaws being in the majority they are powerless. This is an admission that the vicious, lawless class out number our good citizens. Would not every good citizen blush to admit this? Can our country afford this admission? Does it not hold up our people in an awful light? Is there not obliged to be a reaction which will call us in question for these things? It is not true that the authorities can not find out who commit these crimes. There is scarcely any effort upon the part of the lynchers to conceal their crimes nor themselves. The papers publish detailed accounts of these lynchings and lynchers and all but call their names. How came they by this information? It is bosh to say that the detectives with these clews could not hunt down the guilty parties. In the case where a boy raped a woman in South Carolina it is said that the woman's husband kicked his eyes out and, I think, called his name. If this man had personally encountered this boy and done this, I would starve on a jury before I would bring in a verdict of guilty. But he had a mob and did this. They took him from an officer of the law and killed him, and this was lynch.

The grand jury of Roanoke, Va,. has broken this monstrous monotonous farce of "We, the jury, find that the deceased came to his death by gun- shots in the hands of parties unknown to the jury," and indicted a number of persons and among them, the chief of police. This is a healthy beginning.

The downfall of the Roman Decemvirate was due to outrages and unlawful conduct. Notably among them was the case of Virginia, the daughter of Virginius. This beautiful girl was just blooming into womanhood and was betrothed to Ieilius. Appius Claudius, the Decemvir, lusted after her. He planned to get her. With this view he ordered M. Claudius to seize her and claim her for his slave. The trial would be before him and he had planned to render a decision in favor of M. Claudius with the understanding that he would secretly turn her over to him. She was claimed and seized by this man on her way to school. The trial came before Appius and he decided that she should be delivered to M. Claudius until her father should appear and prove her his daughter. This was to be the next morning. Her father was in the army twenty miles from Rome. Appius sent a secret message to the general in the army not to grant Virginias leave of absence. His friends, meanwhile, had sent him word. When Appius' messenger got to the army Virginius was half way to Rome.

{Begin page no. 18}


The people all knew this was contrary to the law which Appius himself had framed. The people clamored for justice. Icilius and the uncle of the girl argued boldly against the legality of the judgement and Appius fearing a tumult among the people, ordered that she be left in their hands upon the condition that they give bail to bring her before him the next morning and that if her father did not appear he would give her to her pretended master. His intention was to get him away. Virginius seeing Appius' intention, asked to be allowed to take the girl aside to inquire closely of her if he was her father, that if he was not he could bear her loss more easily. This was granted and he took her off a piece, snatched up a butcher's knife and said to her "by this means only can I keep thee free," and stabbed her to her heart. He returned waving the bloody knife Appius ordered him arrested, but the people were in sympathy with Virginius and made way for his escape. He returned to the army, told his story and immediately the soldiers left their Decemviral generals and marched to Rome. The city was surrounded by them; the senate was immediately called and appointed a committee to negotiate terms of peace with the Plebeians.

The Plebeians demanded
1st. That the Tribunalship should be restored and the Comitia Tributa recognized.
2nd. That the right of appeal to the people against the power of the supreme magistrate should be secured.
3rd. That full indemnity should be granted to the movers and promoters of the late secession.
4th. That the decemvirs should be burned alive.

The senate committee agreed to all but the fourth. They said that was unworthy of a free people. That it was a piece of tyranny as bad as the worst acts of the late government. That it was needless because if any one had any reason of complaint against the late Decemvirs, they might proceed against them according to law. The wisdom of these words had the desired effect and the Plebeians withdrew their fourth demand. This is exactly my contention. I do not deny that a great crime has been committed nor that it should not be punished by death, but that we should proceed according to law. It will be seen that this violation of law and the blood of Virginia overthrew the Decemvirate of Rome. The Tribunalship was established and Virginius was elected on of the Tribunes. He singled out Appius and had him put in prison and refused him bail unless he could prove that he did not assign Virginia to be a slave until she proved that she was free. This was impossible and he was thrown into prison where he killed himself. Then followed the execution of Oppius and when others were about to be executed M. Duillius came forward and said "Enough has been done to vindicate justice and to uphold freedom. Further punishment would bear the semblance of revenge and make it much more difficult to reconcile the two parties." I submit that enough of this unlawful and inhumane murdering has been done to vindicate the pride and morality of the South. Enough has been done to show that rape has aroused the indignation of a chivalrous. Virtue-loving people. Enough has been done to vindicate outraged justice. O, that a Duillius would appear at this terrible crisis to utter such words of wisdom. We are willing to bury the past and hope for the future because God knows that enough of this bloody work has been done. What it has not vindicated it cannot vindicate.

{Begin page no. 19}

What it has not accomplished it cannot accomplish. The terror it has not excited it cannot excite. It is enough of that kind of business and I pray you, my countrymen, in God's name, to stop and stop now.

When Appius planned this outrageous, unlawful course with Virginia, he did not dream that he would be called in question for it. The entire Decemviral body was called in question for their conduct and paid for it dearly. Alexander, Caesar, Nebuchadnezzer, Belshazzar, Antiochus, the Maccabees, Herod and a host of others too numerous to mention were called in question for their conduct. This country has been called in question for traffic in human slavery. When the slaves were not profitable at the North, the North shipped the slaves to the South, and later on the North endeavored to shift the responsibility to the South. But when the day of retribution came, the North in common with the South was called in question for this sin and both sacrificed much property, millions of dollars, and the blood and lives of hundreds of thousands of as noble men as any country ever produced. It was an awful calling in question. It was a bloody answering. This country has not yet fully recovered from that terrible judgment. I tell you, my friends, a just God lives and presides over the destiny of nations, and we are in danger to be called in question for these days of uproar. May the mighty God of Jacob pity our nation and a loving heaven smile gently on our country for Jesus' sake. AMEN.

... Excerpt ends.