[Excerpts of Rebecca Latimer Felton’s speech to the Georgia Agricultural Society, August 11, 1897]

On August 11, 1897 Rebecca Latimer Felton, wife of a Populist leader in Georgia, spoke at the Georgia Agricultural Society about the problems that farm wives faced.   She claimed that farm wives faced many dangers but none greater than the threat of black rapists. She argued that charitable donations for overseas missionaries were misspent; funds were better spent educating poor young white girls who had been left unprotected by the poor white men of the South. White men, she said, had failed to protect farm wives from “the black rapist.”  Vigilante justice, she declared, was a way for men to restore that protection.  According to Felton,

“When there is not enough religion in the pulpit to organize a crusade against sin; nor justice in the court house to promptly punish crime; nor manhood enough in the nation to put a sheltering arm about innocence and virtue----if it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession form the ravening human beasts----then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.”

Politics was central to Felton’s perspective.  North Carolina Republicans who had encouraged African-American men’s success were also to blame for the actions of the “black rapist.”  Republicans, Felton insisted, “must find a means to stop the crime that invites lynching by the ignorant and malicious of your supporters, or you cannot escape the responsibility for their actions.” Republicans “encouraged the ignorant Negroes in thinking that the success of the party…insures him against the just penalty of his wrongdoing.” Republicans, who had portrayed white Democrats as blacks’ most bitter enemy, had led African-American men to perform all kinds of outrages against whites.  “In his ignorance,” she argued, the African-American man “…has interpreted this to give him license to degrade and debauch.” Speaking to white Republicans, Felton warned, “you are his teacher. You must correct your teachings or you cannot escape the wrath of an outraged people.”