Hannah Irwin Describes a Ku Klux Klan Ride (Late 1860s) The document that appears below is a fascinating example of the small number of existing narratives by former slaves. The narrator recounts her first-hand experience with the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama during Reconstruction. This narrative probably was transcribed during the WPA projects of the 1930s. Ku Klux Rides When de Niggers Starts Trouble. On a high knoll overlooking the winding Chewalla Creek is a little one room shack. Its rusty hinges and weather-beaten boards have seen many a glowing sunset; have stood against many high winds and rains; they have for many years sheltered Aunt Hannah Irwin, ex-slave. Now the old Negro woman is too old and feeble to venture very often from her small home. She lives almost in solitude with her memories of the past, and an occasional visit from one of her old friends who perhaps brings her some fruit or a little money. ?Yas?m, I?ll be pleased to tell you ?bout when I remembers aroun? de time of de War.? Aunt Hannah sat stolidly in a chair that virtually groaned under her weight; and gave utterance to this sentiment through a large thick mouth, while her gold ear rings shook with every turn of her head, and her dim eyes glowed with memory?s fires. ?Dere ain?t much I can tell you, dough,? she went on, ?kaze I wuz only twelve years old when de war ended. ?I wuz bawn on Marse Bennett?s plantation near Louisville, Alabama. Ma Mammy?s name wuz Hester an? my pappy wuz named Sam. ?I remembers one night raght atter de war when de re?struction wuz a-goin? on. Dere wuz some niggers not far fum our place dat said dey wuz a-goin? to take some lan? dat warn?t deres. Dere massa had been kilt in de war an? warn?t nobody ?ceptin? de mistis an? some chilluns. Well, Honey, dem niggers, mo? dan one hundred of ?em, commenced a riot an? a-takin? things dat don?t belong to ?em. Dat night de white lady she come ober to our place wid a wild look on her face. She tell Massa Bennet, whut dem niggers is up to, an? wid out sayin? a word massa Bennett, putt his hat on and lef? out de do?. Twarn?t long atter dat when some hosses wuz heered down de road, an? I look out my cabin window which wuz raght by de road, an? I saw a-comin? up through de trees a whole pack of ghosties; I thought dey wuz, anyways. Dey wuz all dressed in white, an? dere hosses wuz white an? dey galloped faster dan de win? right past my cabin. Den I heered a nigger say: ?De Ku Klux is atter somebody.? ?Dem Ku Klux went ober to dat lady?s plantation an? told dem niggers dat iffen dey ever heered of ?em startin? anything mo? dat dye wuz a-goin? to tie ?em all to trees in de fores? till dey all died f?um being hongry. Atter dat dese niggers all ?roun? Louisville, dey kept mighty quiet. ?No m?am, I don?t believes in no conjurin?. Dese conjure women say dat dey will make my hip well iffen I gives ?em half my rations I gits fum de gover?ment, but I knows dey ain?t nothin? but low-down, no-count niggers.? ?Speaking of the Ku Klux, Aunt Hannah. Were you afraid of them?? ?Naw?m, I warn?t afeered of no Ku Klux. At fu?st I though dat dey was ghosties and den I wuz afeered of ?em, but atter I found out dat Massa Bennett wuz one of dem things, I wuz always proud of ?em.? ?Well, what about the Yankees?? She was asked. ?Did you ever see any Yankees; and what did you think of the ones that came through your place? Were you glad that they set you free?? ?I suppose dem Yankees wuz all right in dere place,? she continued, ?but dey neber belong in de South. Why, Miss, on of ?em axe me what wuz dem white flowers in de fiel? You?d think dat a gentmen wid all dem decorations on hisself woulda knowed a fiel? of cotton. An? as for dey a-settin? me free! Miss, us niggers on de Bennett place was free as soon as we wuz bawn. I always been free.? Alabama Irwin, Hannah. Gerta Courc, John Morgan Smith. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division Ida B. Wells-Barnett, False Accusations, from A Red Record (1895) Ida B. Wells (Wells-Barnett after her marriage) was an outspoken critic of lynching and an advocate of women?s rights from the early 1890s until her death in 1931. A college-educated teacher who became the co-owner and editor of a black newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, Wells gained first-hand knowledge of the brutality of lynching when a white mob murdered three of her friends in 1892. When she wrote about the crime, local whites reacted by threatening her life. Wells relocated to Chicago, where she carried on her crusade. In 1895 she published A Red Record to publicize the tragedy of lynching in the United States. Wells was also a member of the committee that eventually founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and she is remembered for her tirelessness and fearlessness in fighting for equality. Note: Wells made two other historic moves in her extraordinary life. The first occurred in 1884 when she sued a railroad after being forced from a train for not moving to the ?Jim Crow? car. Although she lost on appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, it is important to note that her case predated the much more infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case by 12 years. The second took place a year before her death when she ran for the Illinois state legislature, making her one of the first African American women to run for office. A word as to the charge itself. In considering the third reason assigned by the Southern white people for the butchery of blacks, the question must be asked, what the white man means when he charges the black man with rape. Does he mean the crime which the statutes of the states describe as such? Not by any means. With the Southern white man, any misalliance existing between a white woman and a colored man is a sufficient foundation for the charge of rape. The southern white man says that it is impossible for a voluntary alliance to exist between a white woman and a colored man, and therefore, the fact of an alliance is a proof of force. In numerous instances where colored men have been lynched on the charge of rape, it was positively known at the time of lynching, and indisputably proven after the victim's death, that the relationship sustained between the man and the woman was voluntary and clandestine, and that in no court of law could even the charge of assault have been successfully maintained. It was for the assertion of this fact, in the defense of her own race, that the writer hereof became an exile; her property destroyed and her return to her home forbidden under penalty of death, for writing the following editorial which was printed in her paper, the Free Speech, in Memphis, Tenn., May 21, 1892: "Eight Negroes lynched since last issue of the Free Speech: one at Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday morning where the citizens broke (?) into the penitentiary and got their man; three near Anniston, Ala., one near New Orleans; and three at Clarksville, Ga.; the last three for killing a white man, and five on the same old racket-the new alarm about raping white women. The same programme of hanging, then shooting bullets into the lifeless bodies was carried out to the letter. Nobody in this section of the country believes in the old threadbare lie that Negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful, they will overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women." But threats cannot suppress the truth, and while the Negro suffers the soul deformity, resultant from two and a half centuries of slavery, he is no more guilty of this vilest of all vile charges than the white man who would blacken his name. During all the years of slavery, no such charge was ever made, not even during the dark days of the rebellion. . . . While the master was away fighting to forge the fetters upon the slave, he left his wife and children with no protectors save the Negroes themselves. . . . Likewise during the period of alleged "insurrection," and alarming "race riots," it never occurred to the white man that his wife and children were in danger of assault. Nor in the Reconstruction era, when the hue and cry was against "Negro Domination," was there ever a thought that the domination would ever contaminate a fireside or strike toward the virtue of womanhood. . . . It is not the purpose of this defense to say one word against the white women of the South. Such need not be said, but it is their misfortune that the . . . white men of that section . . . to justify their own barbarism . . . assume a chivalry which they do not possess. True chivalry respects all womanhood, and no one who reads the record, as it is written in the faces of the million mulattos in the South, will for a minute conceive that the southern white man had a very chivalrous regard for the honor due the women of his race, or respect for the womanhood which circumstances placed in his power. . . . Virtue knows no color line, and the chivalry which depends on complexion of skin and texture of hair can command no honest respect. When emancipation came to the Negroes . . . from every nook and corner of the North, brave young white women . . . left their cultured homes, their happy associations and their lives of ease, and with heroic determination went to the South to carry light and truth to the benighted blacks. . . . They became the social outlaws in the South. The peculiar sensitiveness of the southern white men for women, never shed its protecting influence about them. No friendly word from their own race cheered them in their work; no hospitable doors gave them the companionship like that from which they had come. No chivalrous white man doffed his hat in honor or respect. They were "Nigger teachers"-unpardonable offenders in the social ethics of the South, and were insulted, persecuted and ostracized, not by Negroes, but by the white manhood which boasts of its chivalry toward women. And yet these northern women worked on, year after year. . . . Threading their way through dense forests, working in schoolhouses, in the cabin and in the church, thrown at all times and in all places among the unfortunate and lowly Negroes, whom they had come to find and to serve, these northern women, thousands and thousands of them, have spent more than a quarter of a century in giving the colored people their splendid lessons for home and heart and soul. Without protection, save that which innocence gives to every good woman, they went about their work, fearing no assault and suffering none. Their chivalrous protectors were hundreds of miles away in their northern homes, and yet they never feared any "great dark-faced mobs." . . . They never complained of assaults, and no mob was ever called into existence to avenge crimes against them. Before the world adjudges the Negro a moral monster, a vicious assailant of womanhood and a menace to the sacred precincts of home, the colored people ask the consideration of the silent record of gratitude, respect, protection and devotion of the millions of the race in the South, to the thousands of northern white women who have served as teachers and missionaries since the war. . . . These pages are written in no spirit of vindictiveness. . . . We plead not for the colored people alone, but for all victims of the terrible injustice which puts men and women to death without form of law. During the year 1894, there were 132 persons executed in the United States by due form of law, while in the same year, 197 persons were put to death by mobs, who gave the victims no opportunity to make a lawful defense. No comment need be made upon a condition of public sentiment responsible for such alarming results.
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