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W.E.B Dubois Quote

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Lynching Postcards: Death and Torture Captured on Film and Sold For Profit

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lynching 2

Note: This blog post may contain images that may be disturbing. At the very end of the blog post a picture depicting a lynching is displayed.

Many of us, (unfortunately) are likely familiar with the history of lynching of blacks in America. However, some may not realize that these heinous acts were often photographed, and, the photos widely sold and circulated in the form of postcards. At the time, many did not see the postcards as depictions of a terrible crimes, but rather, as the commemoration of an act of justice. Lynching laws had made these acts of murder “permissible”. The term lynching did not always mean “hanging”; but, this method became a very common way to murder blacks and maintain white supremacy. Between 1882 and 1968, 4,738 lynchings were reported by newspaper outlets.

A lynching was viewed as being a “community/social” event. It was not unusual for a lynching to draw hundreds of people including small children. It would also normally attract photographers as well. These photographers would produce photo postcards of a lynching and sell them as souvenirs. In 1912, Congress officially passed a law to prohibit postcards depicting lynching from being mailed. But it would not pass a law to prevent lynching. It would not be until 1946 that someone would be convicted for lynching.

Below is a picture of a postcard of a lynching sent by the Klu Klux Klan to Rev. John Haynes Holmes, one the founding members of the NAACP. It was sent to intimidate him. The postcard message, indicates that Holmes would be “added” to the mailing list and that he could expect to receive a post card “about once a month”. W.E.B. DuBois published the postcard in the NAACP magazine, “The Crisis” in 1912 along with the photographs of many other lynchings. “The Crisis” was very outspoken in advocating against lynching and wanted to publicize it to advocate for it being stopped.

Postcard of lynching sent to Rev. John Haynes Holmes
Postcard of lynching sent to Rev. John Haynes Holmes

It is sad and sickening to think about the thousands of men and women who lost their lives as victims of lynchings.

W.E.B. DuBois Quote: “The COST of liberty is LESS THAN the price of repression.”

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liberty quote

The Niagara Movement: A Predecessor of The NAACP

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1905 Niagara Movement Convening  Session - Founding Members (Image:  Library of Congress)
1905 Niagara Movement Convening Session – Founding Members
(Image: Library of Congress)

The civil rights organization known as the “Niagara Movement” was organized by W.E.B. DuBois, William Trotter, Frederick McGhee and Charles Bentley in 1905. Its inaugural meeting convened 29 business owners, teachers, and clergy at Niagara Falls in 1905.

By the turn of the 20th century, African American activists began mounting a more active opposition to racist government policies and practices than what was advocated by Booker T. Washington.  Washington, at the time was considered to an influential African American leader at the time.  The Niagara Movement stood in staunch opposition to Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise which promoted accomodationism. The compromise was an agreement struck in 1895 lead by Booker T. Washington and other African American leaders with southern white leaders. The agreement sought to have blacks agree to work menial jobs and be submissive to white political rule. In exchange, Southern whites agreed that blacks would get basic education and due process in legal matters. Blacks would agree not to agitate in their quest for racial equality, integration, or justice, and Northern whites would agree to fund educational charities for blacks.

DuBois and Trotter felt strongly that Washington’s expectations of blacks were too low and that as a race of people, blacks should not be resigned to these lower expectations. In its “Declaration of Principles”, The Niagara Movement proclaimed,

“We refuse to allow the impression to remain that the Negro-American assents to inferiority, is submissive under oppression and apologetic before insults.”

The movement’s goal was to address various sectors and systems that disenfranchised blacks such as the criminal justice system, economic system, the religious community, health and educational systems as well as bring an end to segregation. The Niagara Movement stood in contrast to other black organizations of its day because of its unrelenting emphasis and demand for racial equality. It tirelessly advocated for the right to vote as well as educational and economic opportunities for black men and women. From its initial group of 29 members, it grew to 170 members in 34 states by 1906.

Though making great strides, the movement also experienced some significant struggles over its four year existence. One of its primary struggles was the disagreement of its founders on the inclusion of women as part of The Niagara Movement. DuBois supported the inclusion of women, while Trotter was against it. Trotter resigned from the organization in 1907. His departure from the organization appeared to have a negative effect on the membership The Niagara Movement. Booker T. Washington used his popularity and the high profile attention he received in the media to further undermine The Niagara Movement. His influence impacted the amount of media coverage the movement received at its 1908 conference. Washington also published an “obituary” in The New York Age to publish satirizing the decline and metaphorical “death” of The Niagara Movement. The New York Age was one of the most influential black newspapers of its time.

The group convened annual meetings until 1908 and disbanded in 1909. Racial unrest was rampant in many areas at the time. Springfield, IL was the scene of deadly race riot in 1908 where 8 blacks were killed. The unrest caused over 2,000 blacks to leave the city. While other riots had taken place in different parts of the country, this riot was the first to ocurr in the north in 40 years. Both black and white activists, including members of The Niagara Movement agreed that an interracial entity needed to be organized to combat racial injustice. From these concerns and the collaboration of an interracial group of leaders, the NAACP was born. The Niagara Movement was seen as being the precursor to the NAACP. W.E.B. DuBois was one of its founders.

Though the Niagara Movement was a powerful new force fighting for racial justice, Booker T. Washington and his position of “accommodationism” appeared to receive more acceptance from blacks at that time. Washington was highly revered in the black community and had close relationships with whites who were wealthy and had positions of influence. Washington used his connections and popularity to advocate against The Niagara Movement. It is interesting to note, that both groups agreed on the need for racial equity but disagreed on how to achieve it.

“The Brownies”: The First African American Children’s Magazine

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Image:  Library of Congress
Image: Library of Congress

The Brownies Book is recognized as the first magazine published for African American children and youth. Its first issue was published in January 1920 and it would eventually be hailed as an important event in establishing black children’s literature. W.E.B Du Bois, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Augustus Granville Dill were the three creators of, “The Brownies Book”. It began under the umbrella of The NAACP’s national publication, “The Crisis”.

Each year, “The Crisis” published a children’s edition called the “Children’s Number”. It included stories, photos, poetry, and educational achievements of black children. The issue also contained more serious content, such as lynching and discrimination against blacks. The target audience was children between the ages of 6-16 years old. Its creators Dill and Du Bois established Du Bois and Dill Publishers in New York to publish The Brownies. One of the primary goals of the magazine was to dispel negative stereotypes about Africa and its people. At the time, it was a common occurrence to use children’s literature as a medium for spreading negative messages and images about blacks. Du Bois felt strongly that children should be educated on and take pride in their racial identity. The name of the magazine came from fables and folklore where stories were told of creatures called “brownies” who did household chores at night in exchange for food. It played on the stereotype of blacks being servants and slaves. However, the goal was not to reinforce the negative stereotype but rather to empower children to take pride in and embrace their racial identity. Another goal for the publication was to expand the availability of black children’s literature and increase youth participation in the NAACP.

The seven goals stated in “The True Brownies” were

  • To make colored children realize that being “colored” is a normal, beautiful thing.
  • To make them familiar with the history and achievements of the Negro race.
  • To make them know that other colored children have grown into beautiful, useful and famous persons.
  • To teach them a delicate code of honor and action in their relations with white children.
  • To turn their little hurts and resentments into emulation, ambition and love of their homes and companions.
  • To point out the best amusements and joys and worth-while things of life.
  • To inspire them to prepare for definite occupations and duties with a broad spirit of sacrifice.

It was a publication of very high quality and its cover pages were designed by prominent black artists. Each issue cost 15 cents, with a yearly subscription costing $1.50. The content of the magazine highlighted Du Bois’ opposition to Booker T. Washington and Washington’s belief that blacks should be more passive in working towards racial equality. It was long known that Du Bois did not agree with the philosophy of Booker T. Washington in achieving racial equity. A little know fact, is that in 1921, The Brownies became the first publication to print the poetry and literary work of Langston Hughes. Due to financial trouble, The Brownies ceased publication in 1921.

The Library of Congress’ Rare Book and Special Collections Division provides to all but the last issue of the Brownies’ Book. Click here to see copies of The Brownies.

W.E.B. Dubois Quote

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w eb dubois

Atlanta Compromise: Booker T. Washington’s Solution To The “Negro Problem”

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Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington

On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington delivered his famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. Though not without its critics, it is regarded as one of the most significant speeches in American history.

Washington’s speech responded to the “Negro problem”—of what should be done about the terrible socio-economic conditions under which blacks were living after emancipation; as well as the relationship between blacks and whites, particularly in the South. Washington promised his predominately white audience that he would encourage blacks to become skilled in areas such as agriculture, mechanics, commerce and domestic service. He further assured the crowd of the loyalty of the black race. Washington, seemed in the speech to take great pains to also assure the audience that blacks desire for social equality would not be forced artificially but would gradually occur over time. Washington also seemed intent to minimize the fears of whites regarding social integration. His speech seemed to imply that blacks and whites could maintain their separateness and still work together and have mutual progress.

Washington’s speech did encourage whites to take some responsibility in supporting the socio economic advancement of blacks. However, he made sure to praise the South for what he felt were opportunities they provided to blacks in the south since emancipation. Washington’s stressing a sort of shared responsibility resulted in his speech being called, “The Atlanta Compromise’. The speech was well received by those in attendance as well as other prominent African American leaders. However, some black leaders took great issue with the speech; feeling that Washington’s approach was too passive. One of Washington’s biggest critics was W.E.B Dubois.

Washington had his critics, none more vocal than another leading black educator and scholar of his day—W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois, “Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission…. [His] programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races.” Dubois believed the problems of the Negro needed a different type of response. He believed blacks should be more aggressive in obtaining civil rights.The Atlanta Compromise speech was clearly Washington’s ‘answer’ for addressing the problems that blacks were now facing after emancipation. A position to which W.E.B. Dubois was staunchly opposed.

To read the speech in its entirety, click on the link below:

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