Mary Church Terrell was an African American civil rights activist of the late 19th and early 20th century. She was born to parents that were former slaves, who later went on to become financially affluent. This enabled Terrell to become well-educated, receiving a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree form Oberlin College. Initially, she joined Ida B. Wells (mentioned below) in her anti-lynching campaign. However, the values she became familiar with in her religious and conservative household enabled her to appreciate the value of education, therefore she then focused on an uprising of the African American population in many levels, through the spread of education.
Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist and civil rights activist of the late 19th century. Born from parents that were freed slaves, she was a very important critic and advocate against the lynching practices, used throughout the United Sates. What caused her to obtain this role was the racial prejudice and injustice herself and other people of color in her social circle experienced. To this added her religious background, as herself and family were faithful Christians, and she viewed the doctrines she was fighting against as totally disregarding Christian ideals, such as “righteousness” and “self-identity”.
Both women are speaking about violence, the one people of color experience living in a predominantly white society. The violence Terrell describes, has to do with the inability of African Americans to obtain a working position that does not have to do with manual labor and matches their set of skills. Her text is written about Washington D.C., that is mistakenly called “The Colored Man’s Paradise.” The labor market is characterized by complete lack of meritocracy, that leads to white employees being favored over employees of color, which leaves the latter feeling hostility inside the capital of their own country.
Wells’ violence is more tangible. She talks about the “unwritten law” mostly followed in Southern states, that derives from the supposed fear of “negro domination” and results in people of color being deprived of their rights as humans, as well as their right to vote. This violence creates in them the most torturing uncertainty; no matter their actions, they have no right to a just trial, and they could be found hunted and executed in the most inhumane of ways at any given moment.
Both authors perceive as causes for this reality the structure of society itself, that keeps on incentivizing white individuals to treat people of color in this manner. Being part of a society with these certain norms, it I very unlikely that one does not grow like-minded. At the same time, even if this was the case, it is almost impossible for them to differentiate. This is vividly illustrated in Terrell’s story about the store owner that hired an African American clerk and even went on to say he would replace the employees that refused to work with her, but eventually had to fire the clerk as his clients threatened they would boycott his store.
Moreover, the way society is structured, women are much more affected by this violence. For Terrell, that’s because women have much more limited opportunities as it comes to the work they can do, for there are much less positions that they would be accepted in. Wells connects it with the injustice in the treatment of offence against women, depending on their color. Once white women accuse an African American man of insulting them, he would be hanged immediately, while the assaults against women of color by men of the white race are not considered punishable.
A common ground between the authors can be found in their view, that this situation requires immediate change. For Terrell, this demand derives from the fact that those atrocities occur inside the capital of the United States, which is supposed to stand for the values of freedom and justice. Wells touches upon this, stating that such behaviors are not in accordance to the founding principles of the country, which are freedom and bravery, and resemble practices of savages, dishonoring the Anglo-Saxon civilization. At the same time, they cause a decline of the feeling of patriotism, which is exactly what the authors are concerned about; they want these practices to be abandoned, in order to result in the formation of a country where individuals co-exist in peace and feel proud to be a part of.