Skip to main content

The Truth Will Unite Us: Ida B. Wells, Fake Hate Crimes and the Jacks Letter (and Some Vindication for Frances Willard)

Mrs. Josephine St. P. Ruffin

Mrs. Josephine St. P. Ruffin

Please note: I have chosen to include the entire text of the letters, because they are hard to find online, and do not always appear in search results. I also included them because I don’t want any snippet to be taken out of context.

Please also note: There are quotations from Wells and her contemporaries (ca. 1890s), in addition to quotes from contemporary (ca. 1890s) newspapers in which they use the words “negro” and “colored.” I use these words only in direct quotes, not in my own analysis or narrative.

General Officers of the W.C.T.U. (left to right): Anna A. Gordon, Assistant Secretary; Agnes E. Slack, Secretary; Francis Willard, President; Lady Henry Somerset, Vice-President-at-large; Mary E. Sanderson, Treasurer

General Officers of the W.C.T.U. (left to right): Anna A. Gordon, Assistant Secretary; Agnes E. Slack, Secretary; Francis Willard, President; Lady Henry Somerset, Vice-President-at-large; Mary E. Sanderson, Treasurer

In early 1895, Mrs. Josephine St. P. Ruffin received a letter from Florence Balgarnie, leader of the Anti-Lynching League of England and long-time radical suffragette.

Ruffin was an early suffragette and co-founder of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in Boston, a member of the New England Woman's Press Association, and a writer for The Courant. In 1886, Ruffin founded the Woman's Era, the country's first newspaper published by and for African-American women. Two years later, Ruffin organized the Woman's Era Club, an advocacy group for black women; in 1895 she organized the National Federation of Afro-American Women.

Balgarnie stated in her letter to Ruffin that she had recently received a letter from Mr. John W. Jacks, who was, at the time, owner of a small-town newspaper and President of the Missouri Press Association.

“[Jacks] was president of the Missouri Press Association and editor of the Montgomery Standard—a newspaper in Montgomery City, Missouri. Jacks wrote a libelous letter to Florence Balgarnie, an Englishwoman and the Honorable Secretary of the Anti-Lynching Committee of London, in which he denigrated black women as prostitutes, liars and thieves, and disparaged white women who championed antilynching reform.” 1

Temperance Propaganda

Temperance Propaganda

Ruffin was, understandably, enraged. The letter prompted her to convene The First National Conference of the Colored Women of America in Boston, which was to be the first conference of all the African American women’s groups in the United States. A copy of the “Jacks Letter” was sent to all the groups, along with the invitation to the Conference:

“A national conference had been under consideration for more than a year when the appearance in 1895 of a letter written by John W. Jacks hastened the call for one … Balgarnie forwarded the letter to Ruffin, who enclosed it with a flyer, entitled “A Call: Let Us Confer Together,” and mailed it to black women’s clubs throughout the country. She said that the Jacks letter, “too indecent for publication,” reflected upon the moral character of all black women. Ruffin advised, “Read this document carefully and use discriminately and decide if it be not time for us to stand before the world and declare ourselves and our principles. The time is short, but everything is ripe; and remember, earnest women can do anything.” 2

At the time, the anti-lynching movement was losing steam in England. Both of Wells’ speaking tours had been wildly successful, but memory of the scandal between Catherine Impey and Isabella Mayo at the end of the first tour was never forgotten. Wells even had trouble convincing people that she should do the second tour. There were also doubts from the British public whether whites living in the US north were as ambivalent to the anti-lynching cause as Wells claimed they were; doubts that were often shut down and never addressed. These doubts were not, however, unfounded.

Carrie Nation (Carry A. Nation)

Carrie Nation (Carry A. Nation)

Both the Abolitionist and Temperance movements had outspoken and loyal - and almost exclusively white - followers who worked tirelessly for both causes. The Freedmen’s Aid Society had been set up by white Methodists to help those freed from slavery become educated. Carrie Nation was “hatchifying” bar after bar (while selling souvenir hatchets) in her quest to rid the world of alcohol. Many of the women in the two movements were also radical suffragettes. Feminists in England had even burned down an abbey, tin opposition to the church’s marriage vow for women to “obey” men.

Additionally, Ida B. Wells and Florence Balgarnie were engaged in a sort of a battle of wills with the British Women’s Temperance Association. Frances Willard, an American suffragette and President of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), made racist statements regarding African Americans in the south in a speech in 1890:

"Now as to the 'race problem' in its minified, current meaning. I am a true lover of the Southern people. Have spoken and worked in perhaps 200 of their towns and cities, have been taken into their love and confidence at scores of hospitable firesides. Have heard them pour out their hearts in the splendid frankness of their impetuous natures; and I have said to them at such times, 'When I go North there will be no word wafted to you from pen or voice that is not loyal to what we are saying here and now.' Going South, a woman, a temperance woman, and a Northern temperance woman — three great barriers to their good-will yonder — I was received by them with a confidence that was one of the most delightful surprises of my life. I think we have wronged the South, though we did not mean to do so. The reason was, in part, that we had irreparably wronged ourselves by putting no safeguard on the ballet-box at the North that would sift out alien illiterates. They rule our cities to-day, the saloon is their palace, and the toddy stick their sceptre. It is not fair that they should vote, nor is it fair that a plantation Negro, who can neither read nor write, whose ideas are bounded by the fence of his own field and the price of his own mule, should be entrusted with the ballet. We ought to have put an educational test upon that ballot from the first. The Anglo-Saxon race will never submit to be dominated by the Negro so long as his altitude reaches no higher than the personal liberty of the saloon and the power of appreciating the amount of liquor that a dollar will buy. New England would no more submit to this than South Carolina. 'Better whiskey and more of it' has been the rallying cry of great dark-faced mobs in the Southern localities where Local Option was snowed under by the colored vote. Temperance has no enemy like that, for it is unreasoning and unreachable. To-night it promises in a great congregation, a vote for temperance at the polls to-morrow; but to-morrow twenty-five cents changes that vote in favor of the liquor seller.

"I pity the Southerners; and I believe the great mass of them are as conscientious, and kindly-intentioned toward the colored man, as an equal number of white church members at the North. Would-be demagogues lead the colored people to destruction. Half-drunken white roughs murder them at the polls, or intimidate them so that they do not vote. But the better class of people must not be blamed for this, and a more thoroughly American population than the Christian people of the South does not exist. They have the traditions, the kindliness, the probity, the courage of our forefathers. The problem on their hands is immeasurable. The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt. The grog shop is its centre of power. The safety of women, of childhood, of the home, is menaced in a thousand localities at this moment, so that men dare not go beyond the sight of their own roof-tree. How little we know of all this, seated in comfort and affluence here at the North descanting upon the right of every man 'to cast one ballot and have it fairly counted,' that well-worn shibboleth invoked once more to dodge a living issue.

"The fact is that illiterate colored men will not vote at the South until the white population chooses to have them do so, and under similar conditions they would not at the North. But every evil tends to its own cure in a Republic. See what this one of the Force bill is leading the Southerners to do. Look at Mississippi with its Constitutional Convention. The wise measures there proposed may not carry, but they have at least, been recommended by the Suffrage Committee to the convention, and they provide that women in Mississippi who meet certain educational tests, shall have the ballot, and shall vote at polling places separate from those of men. If the convention has the wit and wisdom to adopt this measure, Mississippi will be controlled by white people and delivered from the shot-gun policy of its political adventurers and whiskey-logged roughs. I hold that this measure simply sets a key for the colored people of Mississippi, which will bring them on into civilization faster than those of any other State, unless the other State shall get their eyes open wide enough to see that their safety lies in thus arming the home guards.

"What an incentive to the young colored women of that commonwealth to store their brains with ideas, for when they reach the standard set, (which is not an especially difficult one, and the colored youth have just as bright brains as the white,) they will come into the ranks of voters, the only condition being one of merit, not complexion. Man's extremity is God's opportunity, and it now looks as if the South would solve its own terrific color question by a method the most fortunate for the development of the colored race that could possibly be devised. For whatever sets a high standard for the mothers, the whole race will shortly reach.” 3

Frances Willard

Frances Willard

Wells, as was her wont, made a huge stink over Willard’s past statement and accused Willard of never having truly supported African Americans or the anti-lynching movement. She then accused the entire temperance movement of racism by allowing southern branches of the organization to exclude African Americans if they so chose. The WCTU claimed that respected “states rights,” but the reality was far more complicated.

Balgarnie, in the meantime, was stirring her own pot on the other side of the Atlantic. She herself had, among other things, acted unprofessionally towards and insulted Willard, who happened to be the dearest friend of Lady Henry Somerset. (It is presumed that Willard and Somerset were lovers; it has been said that Willard was most likely a lesbian.) There were several other reasons Balgarnie had fallen out of favor in England, but, in addition to directly disrespecting Willard, because she also wanted the National British Women's Temperance Association (NBWTA) to interfere in the matters of the WCTU, and step into the drama between Wells and Willard. The NBWTA stated that the English could not possibly understand this wholly American dispute, and to let Wells and Willard sort it out themselves; the NBWTA expected the Americans to extend the same courtesy to them in English disputes. Balgarnie, however, continued to bring the matter up, even after censure. Balgarnie harped on the matter so much, in fact, that she began to put the entire organization - and Lady Henry Somerset, in particular - into disrepute.

Scroll to Continue

At one meeting, Balgarnie dramatically tore off her white ribbon badge and declared that she was ashamed to be a part of the NBWTA because they wouldn’t speak out against lynching; the committee responded by asking her why she volunteered, then, to be on the committee in the first place.

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells

Unfortunately, Wells was a difficult person to defend; she even had a poor track record of speaking disrespectfully of her own people when they didn’t agree with her:

“There was a colored man present at Bloomsbury chapel when the above resolution was passed the other day and I heard he wished to speak to the resolution. He said he was a journalist, but I didn't learn his name. Dr. Clifford told me next day that he sent up a card to the chairman asking permission to speak; that he wished to show that the outrages were not as had been pictured! A speech like that from a Negro would have destroyed all that Dr. Clifford, Mr. Aked and I had done to overcome the scruples of the committee to permit the resolution to go on the agenda! I don't know where this Negro came from, nor could I learn his name, but I was speechless with rage. One is in a measure prepared to have white people, especially Americans, doubt and deny; but to have a Negro who can do absolutely nothing to put a stop to these outrages, doing what he can to stop others, is monstrous! No wonder such little headway is made in our demand for justice, when the race against them but must needs be cursed with such spawn calling themselves men. There are a few such in the United States who cringe and bow before the white man and call black white at his dictation. These Negroes, who run when white men tell them to do so, and stand up and let the white man knock them down or killing them if it suits his pleasure, are the ones who see no good in "fire-eating speeches." Such Negroes do nothing themselves to stop, lynching, are too cowardly to do so, and too anxious to preserve a whole skin if they could, but never fail to raise their voices in deprecation of others who are trying to do whatever can be done to stop the infamy of killing Negroes at the rate of one a day.

“I can never forget to my dying day that when I gave the world the true facts about lynching and the foul charge against the men of my race, it was three Negro men of Memphis who raised a protest. Not that what I said was not true, but that "it would do no good" to tell such things. The white men of Memphis and other towns could not gainsay my facts and have not done so to this day, but these Negro men, wishing to gain favor in the eyes of Mr. White Man, hastened to put a letter in the white man's paper condemning the exposure of the southern white man's methods. Thank God, the breed of this stamp of cowards is a small one, and it is not right to blame the whole race for the expressions of those who earn the contempt of the white men they would serve and the far-sighted men and women of our own race.

“The warm, helpful, inspiring, grateful letters I receive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, make me feel that the bulk of my people so far from "laying a straw in my path," know that my labors are for them, and they assure me of their prayers and support. While this holds true, the barking of a few curs cannot make me lose heart or hope. Ida B. Wells. In N.Y. Age.” 4

Albion Tourgee

Albion Tourgee

What Willard said about African Americans was, indeed, racist. However, Wells would have been wise to use it as a teachable moment, rather than turn it into a battle of wills. In the end, four grown women spent a great deal of their time writing letters tattling on one another and perpetuating endless drama.

Albion Tourgee, a future judge who represented Homer Plessy in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, was the recipient of several of these letters:

"Pittsburg, Nov. 27, 94.

Judge A. W. Tourgee; Mayville, N.Y.

Dear Sir -

I have today read your strong words in defense of me and the cause. As always, I feel grateful to you for the only unequivocal expressions in behalf of justice which you alone seemed moved to make. I feel especially grateful at the word this time in reply to Miss Willard’s specious arguments and statements. Miss W. has never forgiven me for telling what she said in condonation of lynching and christian tho she be, she could not resist the opportunity to strike at me thro [sic] her association. She succeeded in doing what she intended. For the enter organization believes I “misrepresented the W.C.T.U.” while in England and no opportunity was given for me to explain. Your words are most opportune in setting the matter clearly before the public. The southern women delegates had a caucus at Cleveland and succeeded in preventing the passage of any resolution by the national body against lynching.

Again, thanking you for these and all other words in behalf of justice, I am

Yours truly,

Ida B. Wells

395 Gold St.

Brooklyn" 5

Frances Willard's letter to Albion Tourgee re: Ida B. Wells.

Frances Willard's letter to Albion Tourgee re: Ida B. Wells.

And then Willard would write a letter:

"Albion Tourgee Esq.

Honored and Dear Brother,

You have written me a noble and manly letter and sent me a charming book. Please believe that I sincerely appreciate both, and receive them in the same spirit of large-hearted good-will that you have manifested. So not think hardly of me about the lynching atrocities - I am as much opposed to them as you are, and I have a better record in relation to Miss Wells than you know. Later on I will write you more at length. In what I say in my annual address, I think you have misapprehended my words. The expression “by making the imputation that white women are instigators of heinous crimes between white and colored races” I meant that Miss Wells stated in her public addresses in England that white women in this country invited colored men to illicit intimacies and then turned about and laid the whole blame on them, and certainly gave the impression that many a lynching occurred as the result of such conduct on the part of two white women, who herself went scot free while the partner of her sin suffered the direst penalties of “Judge Lynch.” It seems to me this was most ill-advised on her part. She is a bright woman and I have nothing against her except that my study of her character and work leads me to feel that she has not the balance and steadiness that are requisite in a successful reformer. I do not mention this as her fault but her misfortune. I want you and your dear wife to know that when I heard that the Chicago’s Women’s Club - which is the largest and best club in the west - of which I have long been a member and which has honored me in many most grateful ways - when, I say, I heard it was going to deny admittance to an intelligent colored woman just because she was colored, I wrote its principal member that if she were not admitted I should “put my light complexion beside her dark one and walk out with her.” I also stated this to a public audience in Boston. It is particularly painful to me to be counted on the wrong side in this controversy because I am a dyed in the wool Abolitionist; my father’s house was a station on the underground railway (in Oberlin); I learned to read out the “Slave’s Friend,” and I have always treated colored people just as I treated white in every respect, and it is, I think, a downright injustice that I have been made by good Frederick Douglass, by persuasive Miss Wells and some others to appear as the enemy of a race that I love and on whose behalf I would do anything that seemed to me to be helpful and practicable.

"Now with happiest christmas greeting and pledging you my best efforts in every good cause, I am

"Yours with gratitude for the uncounted good you have wrought and in the expectation of being better acquainted with you and the Queen in the Better Life to which we hasten, Frances Willard.” 6

Willard, by the way, was correct to question Wells' theory that lynchings were caused by the unbridled passions of white women. More correct than she, pre-internet, could ever have known.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Willard, under attack from Wells, also felt the constant need to defend herself and the WCTU, like in this letter to the editor of the British publication Fraternity from 1 October 1895:

"TO THE EDITOR, It would be impossible for an association like the W.C.T.U., the central object of which is the recognition and development of the brotherhood of man, to be other than in warm sympathy with those who declare the substantial unity of the human race, and endeavour to influence public opinion in the promotion of justice and sympathy between all races, classes, creeds, and communities. It is our purpose, not only by words, but deeds, to invest our lives in the effort to help on every member of the human family toward freedom, opportunity, and every brotherly consideration.

“Two principles underlie all our efforts in the nearly fifty countries in which the society has obtained a foothold. The first has just been stated; and the second recognizes the autonomy of each nation and state in respect to the manner in which its work shall be conducted. In some of the Northern States it is thought best to organize in societies by themselves groups of women who speak the Scandinavian tongue, and in the Southern States colored women are organized in separate groups in the same way, by their own wish and will. They realize that by working in this manner they will develop more rapidly than they would if associated with white women, even as the W.C.T.U. itself does not admit men, because we wish to become drilled and disciplined by having the entire management of the society, so that when we are enfranchised, we shall be prepared to co-operate with men in the wider circle of Government.

“So far as the World's and National W.C.T.U. officers are concerned they would gladly see white and colored women in the same societies, and no distinction is made between white and colored delegates at the Conventions. From the first, colored women have been among the Superintendents and Organizers of the National W.C.T.U. We are aware that in the Southern States as a whole, it would not be practicable to group our local members in this way, and we have reason to believe that coloured women, as a class, much prefer to affiliate with those of their own race. We have been told this repeatedly by them, and while there are exceptions to this statement, we believe it represents the current opinion of the colored people up to the present time, but we think the development that will come to the women who form these helpful groups of workers will at some time in the future lead to the closer affiliation of the two groups of women in their work. We were obliged to choose either not to organize in the South at all, or else to organize on this basis. We have done the best we could under the circumstances, and we think those who have criticized us so severely would take an altogether different view if they were better informed concerning the local situation at the South.

“The General Officers of the W.C.T.U. make no distinction on account of race, and the attitude of the society toward the barbarity of lynching has been more pronounced than that of any other association in the United States, for not only has a resolution against lynching been repeatedly enacted in the general society, but in many of its State branches, while the utterances of its leaders have been made clear and unmistakable. With such a record as this, White Ribboners need not fear to abide the verdict of fair-minded men and women.

Believe me, Yours sincerely, FRANCES WILLARD” 7

First page of the Historical Records of the Conventions of 1895-1896 of the Colored Women of America.

First page of the Historical Records of the Conventions of 1895-1896 of the Colored Women of America.

Wells’ behavior was alienating her from the black community, as well. Some black women in the north who thought that Wells’ tirade against southern white women in Southern Horrors was inappropriate, and resented that it took something as vile as the “Jacks Letter” to finally spur them to unity:


"To the Women’s Convention, Boston, Mass:

"The call sent out by the Era Club proposing a gathering of Afro-American women in deliberative convention simply put in words has long been the wish of thousands.

“We are sorry that the “Jack’s letter” should seem to be the prick which stung to activity. We would not have it appear that we are aroused to action only by the irritation of external circumstances, but would be glad for the world to know that, in reality, our women are taking intelligent cognizance of the inner life of the race and that the decider to be actually noble is more potent than the impulse to resent insult and seek vindication. What we think of ourselves in always more important that what others think of us, that is to say, self respect based upon truth is the foundation we seek to lay.

“We would desire the world to know that long before the base slanders, born in the vile mind of a common Missouri white man, were uttered, our women were actively at work among the masses of our people, seeking to ground them in he fundamental principles of true progress. The existence of such a sheet as The Women’s Era, the existence of such organizations as he Women’s Loyal Union, the Women’s Afro-American League, the Women’s Meeting of Bethel Church, the work which these various enterprises have laid out and the earnestness with which it has been pursued, are in themselves a complete vindication against all slander. We trust that the vile “Jack’s letter” will not give color to your deliberations nor in any sense become the spur under whichh you lay out the work of the future. We would have the world to see that there is a large element of our women who, in convention assembled, can show complete freedom from the imaginative and mercurial disposition which has been the fatal defect in so many conventions of our men.

“We believe that it would be unwise to permit the convention to be made the sounding board of mere “agitators.” We recognize in the “Jacks’ letter” and other such slanders that natural results of the resentment provoked by the fierce denunciation of “southern white women” that have been injudiciously indulged in by some of the “mercurial persons” of the race. We look with more hope to the conservative workers who seek to lay true foundations and who employ such means as the well-edited Women’s Era and the well-conducted organizations referred to above. The truly representative women of the race can never be enlisted in any movement that is led by ignorant enthusiasts or the fiery agitators, whose incentive to action is the intoxication of excited sensibilities, full of the chimeras of distempered fancy.

“We know the character of these under whom this convention is called, and we have faith in the calm sobriety which has always characterized their endeavors. We send to you Mrs. Hannah Jones, who will represent the one thousand Afro-American women of Bethel congregation. Our work is among the masses and our motto is “true progress.” We can and will lend powerful support to such enterprises as promise true good to the race. May God prosper your great undertaking. The Women of Bethel Church. New York City." 8

The Women of Bethel Church clearly believe that the Jacks Letter is a response to Ida B. Wells. They are also one of the few organizations attending the conference who do not honor Wells in their speech.

Bethel AME Church, New York City (1897)

Bethel AME Church, New York City (1897)

Here’s the thing: Florence Balgarnie seems to be the only person who ever saw the Jacks Letter; the only one who ever proverbally held it in her hot little hands. Balgarnie was in England when she allegedly received the letter, so she could not have shown it to Ruffin in person. It seems that no one else has ever seen this letter. There is no evidence this letter ever existed, outside the confines of Ms. Balgarnie’s mind.

There are no digital scans of this infamous letter. The text of this letter is not available. Anywhere. There are only short quotes from the letter in other documents. No one has it. No one knows where to get it. People know about it, but have never read it.

It is indeed curious, why a man of Mr. Jacks’ importance would write such a vile and offensive reply to an anti-lynching activist who had known ties to the pre-eminent anti-lynching activist in the United States, Ida B. Wells:

“In 1895 James W. Jacks, president of the Missouri Press Association, received a letter from Florence Balgarnie of the English Anti-Lynching League asking American journalists to help battle lynching. Jacks’ now infamous reply to her letter, attacked African Americans and specifically, black women. Jacks wrote that, “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.”” 9

Cover of The Christian Educator.

Cover of The Christian Educator.

The initial shock and outrage over the Jacks Letter seems to have been replaced with suspicion and doubt. The Freedman's Aid and Southern Education Society seem to have sent correspondents to Missouri immediately, to get to the bottom of the scandalous letter, the language of which bordered on ridiculous. Ruffin also kept up with the case, as shown when she published an article from The Christian Educator in The Women’s Era regarding the “Jacks Letter:”

“One of the editors of The Christian Educator, the organ of the Freedman's Aid and Southern Education Society, has been at some pains to locate and learn something definite of the man Jacks, who wrote the shameful letter to Miss Balgarnie of England in March last. Letters of inquiry were sent to prominent people of Missouri, and some of the answers are given in the Educator. No names are mentioned by the Educator. Following is one of the replies:

"Mr. ----- is the editor of a paper here. He is a member of the ----- Church in this town, and the Sunday School superintendent. I learn he is the son of an ex-slave holder of this state. There are several of the leading colored men of this town and country that are subscribers to Mr. -----'s paper, and he has never printed a disrespectful word in his paper here against the colored people."

“The Educator adds: "It is safe to say, from what is known of the man, that he would never be even courageous enough to print the whole letter in his own paper, and look his neighbors in the face the same week.”" 10

So … who was John W. Jacks?

“Mr. Jacks became a member of the Missouri Press Association in 1871 and was secretary of the Association from 1884 to 1890. In 1894 he was elected president of the Association and presided during the 1895 session. At the close of the session he was presented with a gold-headed ebony cane and his wife received a diamond ring. Mr. Jacks was also a member of the National Editorial Association for several years and a member of the Southwest Missouri Press Association. He served as president of the Northeast Missouri Press Association for two or three terms. He has traveled from Boston to San Francisco, from Duluth to New Orleans and from Mexico to Florida with the editorial excursions and is now ready for another trip.” 11

Florence Balgarnie sent her request to numerous publications, and made her motive for writing her letter very clear. She wanted journalists to speak out against lynchings.

Why would John W. Jacks risk his good standing in his community by writing a letter so heinous that the obvious next step would be for the recipient to share his blatantly racist remarks with … everybody?

Let’s say that Jacks was, indeed, that racist. The things he allegedly said in the letter about black women were unforgivable; they are, clearly, over 120 years later, unforgettable. Why would a man who never indicated before that he held such profoundly racist opinions against black women, expose himself for the very first time by committing such terrible thoughts to paper? Why would he then send those vile thoughts to someone he knew was guaranteed to share them with whomever would listen? Why was this hatred directed solely at black women, and not at black men?

The answer is clear: The Jacks Letter was a fake. Florence Balgarnie may have received a letter insulting black women from someone, but it is doubtful that it came from John W. Jacks. Of course, Balgarnie may not have received any letter at all, and made the whole thing up in order to muster support for her anti-lynching cause.

Ruffin publishing news of the Jacks Letter in The Women’s Era offers another clue; purposefully not inviting Ida B. Wells to attend the next Women’s Conference is another. They may have suspected that Ida B. Wells wrote the letter, as she was close friend and comrade to Florence Balgarnie, and would have motivation to write it. The letter's inflammatory tone was also similar to Wells' writing.

Ultimately, the Jacks Letter had a positive outcome; it united the black women of America. But imagine the feeling of betrayal, thinking that such a good house had been built on a foundation of lies.

1, 2



5 Wells-Barnett, Ida B., “Letter, Ida B. Wells to Albion Winegar Tourgée, 1894-11-27,” Digital Public Library of America, Courtesy of Chautauqua County Historical Society via Empire State Digital Network. (


7 From "About Southern Lynchings," Baltimore Herald, 20 October 1895 (Temperance and Prohibition Papers microfilm (1977), section III, reel 42, scrapbook 70, frame 153).

8 Historical Records of the Conventions of 1895-96 of the Colored Women of America (Boston: 1902), 122 p. pgs 18-20 (




#bhm #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackHistory #bhm #feb #february #american #blacklivesmatter #blackpeople @coreybooker @kamalaharris

© 2018 Carrie Peterson

Related Articles