Truth-Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells

Willard and Somerset Respond

"An Unwise Advocate"

A few weeks after Fraternity magazine republished the New York Voice interview alongside Wells's comments, Frances Willard and Lady Henry Somerset responded.

The below piece, billed as an "interview" of Willard by Somerset, first appeared in the London paper the Westminster Gazette. The WCTU newspaper, the Union Signal, reprinted it not long thereafter. The version below is from the Signal, and includes a few paragraphs of introduction added by the paper's editors, defending Willard. It would have been read by thousands of American WCTU members.

Willard addressed her comments in the 1890 interview directly. For the most part, she reaffirmed her original views, including her support for restrictions on voting. She said that white Southerners had told her what things were like in the region, and she implied that they were the group whose account was most trustworthy.

"The Life of My People"

In response to this interview, Wells immediately wrote a letter to the editor of the Westminster Gazette. The paper printed it the following day. Wells chastised Willard and Somerset for their attempts at a lighthearted tone, which she said proved their "indifference to suffering" and the "terrible subject of lynching."

Wells made clear what she understood as the stakes of the conflict: the brutality and oppression faced by black people in the American South, and the apathy of white people who claimed to be their allies. She wrote:

The concluding sentence of the interview shows the object is not to determine how best they may help the Negro who is being hanged, shot and burned, but 'to guard Miss Willard's reputation.' With me, it is not myself nor my reputation, but the life of my people which is at stake, and I affirm that this is the first time to my knowledge that Miss Willard has said one single word in denouncing lynching or demand for law.
The fact is, Miss Willard is no better or worse than the great bulk of white Americans on the Negro question. They are all afraid to speak out, and it is only British public opinion which will move them, as I am thankful to see it has already begun to move Miss Willard.


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