Jessie Daniel Ames
Jessie Daniel Ames (November 2, 1883 - February 21, 1972) was a civil rights activist in the Southern United States. She was one of the first Southern white women to speak out and work publicly against lynching of blacks, which were often done by white men as a misguided act of chivalry to protect their "virtue". She bravely stood up to them and led organized efforts by white women in protest of its brutality, helping to bring about the decline of lynching in the 1930s and 1940s.
Ames was born in Palestine, Texas. She studied at Southwestern University, and thereafter, despite the objection to religion of her father, became a convert to Methodism. In 1905, she married Roger Post Ames, a doctor with the United States Army. He spent most of their married life in Central America, fighting yellow fever with Walter Reed, before dying there himself in 1914.
Jessie, a single 31-year-old with three children to support, moved in with her mother and helped with the family business. She also became involved with several Methodist women's groups. This involvement was the impetus for her involvement in the women's suffrage movement.
In 1916 she organized a local women's suffrage association in Texas and helped the state become the first one to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. In 1919, she was the founding president of the Texas League of Women Voters. She also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1920, 1924, and 1928. In 1929 she became the director of the women's committee of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC).
In 1930 Ames founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, which obtained the signatures of 40,000 women to their Pledge (see below) Against Lynching. Despite hostile community opposition and physical threats, they conducted petition drives, lobbying and fundraising across the South to work against lynching.
- We declare lynching is an indefensible crime, destructive of all principles of government, hateful and hostile to every ideal of religion and humanity, debasing and degrading to every person involved...[P]ublic opinion has accepted too easily the claim of lynchers and mobsters that they are acting solely in defense of womanhood. In light of the facts we dare no longer to permit this claim to pass unchallenged, nor allow those bent upon personal revenge and savagery to commit acts of violence and lawlessness in the name of women. We solemnly pledge ourselves to create a new public opinion in the South, which will not condone, for any reason whatever, acts of mobs or lynchers. We will teach our children at home, at school and at church a new interpretation of law and religion; we will assist all officials to uphold their oath of office; and finally, we will join with every minister, editor, school teacher and patriotic citizen in a program of education to eradicate lynchings and mobs forever from our land.
Ames opposed a federal anti-lynching law, however, as she believed that it would be better to get state laws enforced than have the national government step in. Southern Senators filibustered the law, in any case, but Senator Tom Connally of Texas used a letter written to him by Ames to show widespread Southern opposition to the anti-lynching bill. Ames meant the letter to be private, and wanted to speak out in opposition to lynching when the bill failed.
Despite this, the number of lynchings decreased, and the group disbanded in 1942 and merged back into the CIC.
Jessie Daniel Ames died on February 21, 1972 in Austin, Texas.
- Dickson D. Bruce, Jr. "Antilynching Campaign" excerpted from The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States. Accessed 15 January 2008.
- Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race & Class. New York: Vintage Books, 1983,p.194
- Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race & Class. New York: Vintage Books, 1983, pp.194-195
- Bowman, John S. The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995) p. 15
- Davis, Angela Y. Women, Race & Class. (New York: Vintage Books, 1983, pp. 194–195)
- Reid, Daniel G. et al. Dictionary of Christianity in America. (Westmont, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990). ISBN 0-8308-1776-X.
- Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd The Revolt Against Chivalry. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974, pp. 239–249)
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