Jessie Daniel Ames (1883–1972), anti-lynching crusader
Ames, a native of Texas, graduated from Southwestern University in 1902. She married an army medical officer in 1905 and had three children. Left a widow in 1914, she supported her family by setting up a telephone company with her mother.
Ames worked for women’s suffrage and was founder and president of the Texas League of Women Voters in 1919. She was a Democratic Party delegate to the national conventions of 1930, 1924, and 1928. She continued working for women’s rights and for progressive reforms in the South. She urged her fellow white women reformers to confront racial issues and to join their voices with the voices of African American women.
Soon, stopping lynching became Ames’s focus. She attacked the problem on all fronts. She challenged the notion that the white Southern woman was a helpless, chaste victim of the sexually depraved African American man and instead blamed economic factors and racial hostility as the root causes of lynching. She also addressed the incidence of white men raping African American women with impunity. In addition, she addressed inequities in the justice system and the effects of poverty and lack of proper legal representation.
In 1924 Ames became the director of the Texas branch of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC). Founded in Atlanta in 1919, the organization worked to oppose lynching and other racially motivated mob violence. By 1937, she would become director of the CIC Women’s Committee at the main organization’s headquarters in Atlanta. She also handled its day-to-day management. While at CIC she established a monthly newsletter, the Southern Frontier.
In 1930 Ames founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL). She led an intensive campaign to educate the public and to secure pledges from law enforcement officials to protect prisoners from lynch mobs. Thousands of ASWPL members went into communities, many of them the scenes of past lynchings, and convinced sheriffs, judges, churches, social clubs, and politicians to sign the pledge.
“We declare lynching an indefensible crime, destructive of all principles of government, hostile to every ideal of religion and humanity, degrading and debasing to every person involved. We pledge ourselves to create a new public opinion in the South which will not condone for any reason whatever acts of the mob or lynchers.”
For the first time, in 1940 no lynchings were recorded. Ames retired from activism after the ASWPL and the CIC were absorbed by the Southern Regional Council in 1943 and spent her remaining years doing philanthropic work.