In 1894, Ida B Wells (Episode 39) went on a speaking tour in England talking about the horrors of lynching in America. In 1895, she published her famous report, “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States”.
Florence Balgarnie, a member of the English Anti-Lynching League, wrote a letter to James W. Jacks, president of the Missouri Press Association encouraging him to put more journalists on the issue of lynching and help stop it from happening. Jacks replied with a blatantly racist letter in which he stated, “The Negroes in this country are wholly devoid of morality. They know nothing of it except as they learn by being caught for flagrant violations of law and punished therefor… They consider it no disgrace but rather an honor to be sent to prison and to wear striped clothes. The women are prostitutes and all are natural liars and thieves… Out of 200 in this vicinity it is doubtful if there are a dozen virtuous women of that number who are not daily thieving from the white people.”
In response to this, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, leader of Boston’s New Era Club, sent out a “Call to Confer” to every African-American women’s organization. The conference held in Washington D.C. in 1896 resulted in the coalition of more than 100 clubs into the National Association of Colored Women (NACW)
There is some discrepancy as to how many organizations were represented at this first conference, but it was covered by newspapers like the “New York Times,” the “Washington Post,” and the “Washington Bee” (an African-American newspaper). Some of the notable attendees were Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mrs. Rosetta Sprague, the only daughter of Frederick Douglass, Mrs. John M. Langston, the wife of the noted congressman from Virginia, Mrs. B. K. Bruce, wife of Senator Bruce, and Mrs. Booker T. Washington, wife of the president of Tuskegee Institute of Alabama.
The concept that African-American women across the entire nation could unite was a new and attractive idea to women of color. The newspaper stories spurred them to action in forming their own local clubs that could become part of the national association. On the national level, the organizers knew that they also needed the numbers of the working poor and farmers not just the educated middle class and that in helping the more unfortunate among them, the entire race could be lifted.
Mary Church Terrell, the first president of the NACW, was integral in organizing the hodgepodge of groups, who were united by the overarching concept of race more than the same social objectives, into various departments such as education, daycare, suffrage, or reformatories and a woman skilled in the field would be put in charge of that department and managing those groups.
In 1904 the name was changed to the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC). Under the motto, “Lifting as We Climb,” the NACWC is still continuing the work of uniting the vast array of organizations of women of color.
This week’s song pick:
“Pata Pata” by Miriam Makeba https://youtu.be/hNbgJbl1x-4
Episode 45 Sources:
Full text of “The Red Record”