Friday, January 3, 2014

The Role of the A.S.W.P.L. and Christian Organizations in Encouraging Anti-Lynching Education Programs and Legislation

Although a key figure in the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching was opposed to anti-lynching legislation as a supplement to education as a means to end lynching, efforts to pass such legislation, as well as efforts to spread anti-lynching education and literature, and to encourage growth of, membership in, and contribution to such education programs, were promoted by each the ASWPL, Christian churches, and Christian organizations.
At the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching’s annual conference of the Council on Program for 1938 in Atlanta, the association declared that “[l]ynching is an indefensible crime, destructive of all principles of government, hateful and hostile to every ideal of religion and humanity, debasing and degrading to every person involved.”1
In a report of the association’s 1937 activities, the authors acknowledged the widespread nature of lynching, and felt a responsibility for its presence. They believed that lynching was widespread because “public opinion has accepted too easily the claim of lynchers and mobsters that they were acting solely in the defense of womanhood.” They aimed to “create a new public opinion in the South which will not condone for any reason whatever acts of mobs or lynchers,” and sought to do so through anti-lynching education programs and the spreading of literature.1
At the 1938 meeting, “members at large, representatives of national and sectional organizations and chairmen of State Councils” presented or submitted reports “on their activities in advancing the program of education through personal work, through organization set-ups and through State Council activities.” Jessie Daniel Ames reported on the spread of the anti-lynching educational program in the U.S.1
The association wanted the chairman of each state council to secure speakers to present the education program in colleges, and to write letters of commendation to sheriffs in counties where lynchings had been prevented. State councils were also encouraged to increase their member organizations and to make studies of present state anti-lynching legislation to support the federal anti-lynching law.1
The association advocated a wider use of the press. Jessie Daniel Ames was asked to continue monthly mimeographed letters on the group’s work, and to contact publications affiliated with anti-lynching education. Members of the association wanted a study book to be prepared on anti-lynching education, which was to be made available for twenty-five cents, and free to university sociology departments. They also wanted to continue distributing anti-lynching literature and posters to libraries, especially in high schools, colleges, and city and county libraries.1
Mrs. Attwood Martin of Kentucky sent literature to four foreign countries, corresponded with editors, providing them printed material, wrote newspaper articles, and gave literature to clergy and libraries. She said that “prejudice… gives way before a knowledge of presented facts. Our work lies ahead in the presenting of these facts to an ever-widening public.”1
Women of the Florida Council gave advice to women to help prevent lynching. They advised them to call on local citizens, to call the governor, the sheriff, and officers, and to keep in touch with the press. This advice is given alongside documentation of telegrams sent from a Mrs. Cornell to such authorities and press, which resulted in Governor Cone to correspond to Mrs. Cornell, promising that a Negro on trial would not be lynched.1
The association collected signatures to pledge to educate against lynching, and expressed a desire to intensify efforts to secure signatures from sheriffs, county officers, members of the state legislature, and of churches, “civic clubs, school classes, young people and college groups,” and “unorganized rural and industrial sections.” In the report of the committee on methods, the ASWPL stated a desire that “groups affiliated with State Councils and interested individuals be asked to make financial contributions to the educational program for the prevention of lynching.”1
Although Jessie Daniel Ames favored education over legislation as a means to end lynching, the ASWPL, in solidarity with Christian churches, encouraged anti-lynching legislation. The National Young Woman’s Christian Association directed their attention to advancing the Gavagan-Wagner-Van Nuys Anti-Lynching Bill in the United States Congress, and members of the ASWPL also worked to secure the passage of the bill, though it was ultimately unsuccessful.2
The ASWPL and Christian churches joined forces to promote anti-lynching education. The ASWPL’s literature was distributed to the Presbyterian Church, sent to each Synodical president and secretary of Christian Social Service, and to the president and chairman of Christian Social Service of the Young People’s Leagues of the Synod, and the Synodicals considered adopting an education program. The Committee on Women’s Work of the Presbyterian Church “endorsed a program of education against lynching and urged the active interest of the woman as individual Christian citizens.” Mrs. W. A. Newell, the chairman of the Bureau of Christian Social Relations of the Southern Methodists, reported that “[t]he aim and policies of the [ASWPL] were adopted by the Women’s Missionary Council… as an important part of its work in education for and practice of Christian Citizenship.”2

The Women’s Christian Missionary Society and the Methodist Missionary Council also participated in educational efforts, by securing signatures, holding community meetings to talk about the factors that promote mobs, promoting “anti-lynching leaflets, pamphlets and playlets,” and “securing the signatures of sheriffs and other county officers” to a “Declaration of Purpose,” and reporting within at least one church on what has been done to educate against lynching. Mrs. L. O. Turner, the Georgia Secretary General of the Women’s Christian Missionary Society, told of “Negro speakers in District Conventions,” and said that “both State and International Conventions have endorsed a program against lynching.” She said that “the cultivation of a new interest in the Negro home and family, the Negro school and church life” would reduce mob violence.2


1. Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, 1930-1942. "With Quietness They Work: Report of the Activities of Southern Women in Education Against Lynching During 1937". In With Quietness They Work: Report of the Activities of Southern Women in Education Against Lynching During 1937 (Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, Atlanta, GA, 1938)
2. Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, 1930-1942. "The National Young Woman's Christian Association Concentrate On Federal Bill". In With Quietness They Work: Report of the Activities of Southern Women in Education Against Lynching During 1937 (Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, Atlanta, GA, 1938)

Originally written in February 2008 as a college essay

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