Historical treasure: “Anti-lynching crusaders” | Valley life

On March 29, 2022, President Joseph Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act which the United States Congress had recently passed with bipartisan support. The bill is named after the young African-American man from Chicago, Illinois, who was brutally murdered (lynched) in 1955 in Mississippi.

This federal law lasted about 122 years; long overdue. There had been approximately 200 attempts for a federal anti-lynching bill in the United States Congress dating back to 1900. Lynching, death by hanging, by mob action without due process, was a shameful part of this county for over 100 years. The new law expands the definition of lynching and increases the penalties. Lynching, at its height in this country from 1880 to 1930, affected both sexes and all races. However, the lynching of African Americans was most prevalent in this country during this period with The Equal Justice Initiative documenting 18 lynchings in Indiana alone. This researcher, along with a local genealogist, documented 19 lynchings in Indiana during this time. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes would rarely be brought to justice. In fact, no one has ever been held responsible for the February 1901 lynching of George Ward in Vigo County. In 1931, Indiana tightened its anti-lynching law. While at that time Indiana had an anti-lynching law, no federal law existed.

In Indiana, as well as across the country, numerous groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), have fought against this illegal practice. To draw attention to the horrors of these extrajudicial practices, these organizations have used objects as a way to get their message across. Signs, banners and buttons were popular choices. This week’s historic treasure is an anti-lynching button that was created to shed light and call for an end to this horrific practice. The object is extremely rare, very few still exist. This lithographed button, in white and blue, measures 5/8 inch in circumference. The words “Anti-Lynching Crusaders” and “Stop Lynching” are written in the center in large letters.

Produced in New York by the Standard Emblem Company, it was sanctioned in the early 1920s by the Anti-Lynching Crusaders. The group was made up of African American women, under the auspices of the NAACP, whose sole purpose was the abolition of lynching of all regardless of race or sex. The organization documented the lynching of 83 African American women from 1881 to 1921.

The powerful knob has stood the test of time, serving as a testament to its craftsmanship as well as its unknown owner. Locally sourced, the button may have been the prized possession of local activist and NAACP member Daisy Hood or perhaps it belonged to fearless freedom fighter and NAACP member Grace Wilson Evans.

Although tiny in nature, the pin sends a clear message that such extrajudicial violence is unacceptable. The rare artifact is currently on display at the Vigo County History Center.

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