The Washington Post
Charles B. Purvis, M.D.
Washington, D.C.: 6 September 1897


Dr. Purvis' Reply to the Recent Address of a Georgia Woman.

  Dr. Charles B. Purvis, of this city, has written the following letter on lynchings at the South, in reply to the address of Mrs. W. P. Felton, before the Georgia Agricultural Society, which has been so widely printed and commented upon:

Washington, D. C., Sept. 4, 1897.

  Mrs. W. P. Felton, Cartersville, Ga.:

  Madam: I have just read your address on lynching, which you delivered before your State Agricultural Society, in which you urge the white men of the South to continue their dance of blood by assassinating negroes who make assaults upon white women.

  I have only words of condemnation for the crimes committed. I believe the perpetrators should be severely punished to the full extend of the law, but the punishment should be in obedience to law. Madam, your appeal is shocking! It brings to my mind more forcibly than ever before the damning effect that slavery produced upon the people of our Southern country. Humanity seems to be almost stamped out. You are to be commiserated, not condemned.

  That raping by negroes has been committed I am constrained to believe is true, but that every negro who has been assassinated by the lawless, bloody-minded barbarians who constitute your lynchers has committed rape I do not believe. The cry is often make an excuse for murder. The political murders, assassinations, and lynchings of this class are too fresh in our minds for us to credit all the charges made. I say you are to be commiserated. Why? For generations your social system has been of a kind that produces rapers and lynchers. The raping of black women by white men has been and is tolerated by your social code. No white woman has protested against the concubinage existing between white men and black women.

  The recent constitutional convention of South Carolina adopted almost unanimously a clause forbidding intermarriage between the races, and fixed a penalty for a violation of the law. At the same sitting a proposition was submitted forbidding concubinage between white men and black women. This amendment was voted down almost unanimously by the identical vote that interdicted marriage.

  To this outrage against decency, justice, morality, Christianity, did any white woman cry shame? Did any of your papers denounce the outrage? Did any of your ministers seek to arouse the moral sensibilities of the people? No! No! That convention, controlled by the mountebank Senator Tillman, made it legal for white men of South Carolina to stamp out black womanhood.

  Rapers have been shot, hung, and burned frequently within the past ten years in your Southern States, and still the crime, it is charged, continues. Madam, you are exerting your energies in the wrong direction, striking down in the spirit of revenge. Murder will not accomplish anything: you should lay your ax at the root of the evil. You should study and labor to understand and enjoin upon the men to whom you appeal to study the causes that lead to the production of this and all other classes of criminals. Divest yourself as far as possible of racial feeling, become a student of criminology, ask yourself how far is the best developed element of Southern man and womanhood responsible for the crime against which you protest; how far the whole American people responsible?

  Look into the social, industrial, intellectual, and educational conditions of your colored population: see if the best is being done to develop them. Look into the contract systems of labor as fortified by your State laws, and see if they protect these unfortunate people in their rights and secure to them those opportunities that will make them law-abiding, self-respecting, conservative citizens, or are they still in a condition of virtual servitude? Ascertain whether the industrial avenues are being opened to them.

  Allow me to suggest that you read Prof. Lombrosia's works on "Criminal Anthropology;" Charles Elm on "The Law of Uniform Transmission;" Harolock Ellis' work, "The Criminal." I could name many more, but these will suffice, and will give you new light upon a subject that is apparently near to your heart. And then read, or reread, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." I am sure a fresh perusal of the book will stir your soul to its depths.

  The crime of rape is not new or unusual; our histories are full of evidence; we need not turn back to ancient works for abundance of facts. Dr. R. von Kraftt-ebing in his work states that between the years of 1831 and 1876 22,017 rapes were committed in France—1,700 of them upon children. The civilized world during the past year has been appalled by the atrocities committed upon the Armenians; no class of women have suffered more. In this city there are cases waiting trial of white men who have assaulted little girls. Within a week a white man in Maryland has been arrested for assaulting his daughter.

  I trust you will see the wisdom of recalling your appeal to the worst passions of your men. I hope your love for humanity, for Christianity, will lead you to new thought and to identify yourself with a movement that has for its object the regeneration of the people whose overt acts are but the sequel to the system of slavery—a system which stamped out every manly attribute of the negro and transformed his master into a semi-barbarian.

  You and I, madam, must direct our shafts against the crime of rape, not against a class whose individual members may be the perpetrators. The white man who rapes a black woman is no worse than the black who rapes a white woman, unless we consider him so because he has more intelligence and larger opportunities for development.

  Believing that the evolution which is constantly going on will correct the misfortunes of the age, I am, very respectfully,