Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching

In 1930, Texas suffragist and civil rights activist Jessie Daniel Ames and a group of white women in the South founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL). The ASWPL’s primary objective was to use white women’s moral and social leverage to educate and persuade southern whites to end the practice of lynching in rural communities. Ames—who was also a member of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC), which was founded in 1919, and its Director of Women’s Work—sought to create a unique, independent network of organizations for middle-class white Christian women. ASWPL founders were not interested in creating another typical women’s organization, and they rejected federal intervention to end lynching as an affront to states’ rights and southern identity and sensibilities. Instead, they sought to harness the skills and social connections of women who were already members of myriad organizations to construct a movement broad enough to include white women throughout the South.

The ASWPL had no true constituency but rather an organizational structure consisting of an executive director, an executive committee, the Central Council, and thirteen state councils composed of leaders of state organizations who were often already involved in anti-lynching activism. The Central Council was the clearinghouse for their activities.

In Arkansas, such organizations as the Arkansas Democratic Women’s Clubs and the Arkansas Federation of Women’s Clubs endorsed ASWPL activities. When Ames issued a call to meet in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 1, 1930, twenty-six white women from six southeastern states answered. A similar meeting was held several days later on November 6 in Dallas, Texas, where Ames met with women from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. By April 1931, there were anti-lynching associations in all of the southern states except for Florida, which later founded a state council.

When the ASWPL first organized, Susan Streepey of Little Rock (Pulaski County), who was president of the Little Rock Federation of Women’s Clubs and chairperson of the Arkansas ASWPL, was among the southern white women who confirmed their dedication to anti-lynching reform in their home state. Lillian McDermott, Arkansas’s first certified social worker, also enthusiastically endorsed the organization.

Most of the Arkansas women who served on the ASWPL’s Central Council, headquartered in Atlanta, lived in Little Rock and were state or national leaders in some capacity. For instance, Adolphine Fletcher Terry, wife of U.S. Representative David Terry, was a public education advocate who co-founded the Little Rock branch of the American Association of University Women and helped establish the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools during the 1957–58 Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis; she served on the ASWPL’s Central Council from 1932 until approximately 1937. Terry was also an Arkansas State Interracial Committee member in the 1920s. Lila Ashby, another Arkansas ASWPL supporter in the 1930s, was a credit manager for the C. J. Lincoln Company (a Little Rock pharmaceutical company), a member of the Arkansas Business and Professional Women’s Club, and a co-founder and treasurer of the Little Rock Association of Credit Men.

The ASWPL sought to eliminate lynching primarily by exerting social pressure on local law enforcement and drawing national attention to the failures of police in protecting potential lynching victims. For example, following the lynching of Willie Kees in 1936, state ASWPL members called upon the Poinsett County sheriff to re-open the investigation into Kees’s murder.

By 1940, lynchings had declined throughout the South, perhaps due in small part to the ASWPL’s anti-lynching program, but more likely due to the democratic and moral rhetoric of the World War II era, which made racial violence increasingly unpopular. When the ASWPL Central Council met in 1941, Ames questioned whether the organization should continue its activism. Although lynchings had not completely ceased by this time, murdering black men for unproven acts of sexual assault against white girls and women had become indefensible. Consequently, leaders felt that the ASWPL had achieved its goals. The Central Council held its last meeting in February 1941. The Arkansas ASWPL disbanded the same year.

Although southern white women’s efforts may not have eradicated lynching throughout the South, through the ASWPL, they utilized anti-lynching education in southern white communities to discourage racial violence and employed their organizational, personal, and community contacts as conduits for their activism.

For additional information:
Jones-Branch, Cherisse. “‘Working Slowly but Surely and Quietly’: The Arkansas Council of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, 1930–1941.” In Bullets and Fire: Lynching and Authority in Arkansas, 1840–1950, edited by Guy Lancaster. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2018.

Cherisse Jones-Branch
Arkansas State University

Last Updated: 02/03/2020

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