ROBERT F. MARTIN
In 1930 Coleman Livingston "Coley" Blease, campaigning in the Democratic primary for reelection to the U.S. Senate from South Carolina, declared to the voters of the Palmetto State, "Whenever the Constitution comes between me and the virtue of the white women of South Carolina, then I say 'to hell with the Constitution!'" 1 Blease was arguably as vacuous as he was flamboyant, but like many other Dixie demagogues in search of votes, he knew, almost instinctively, how to tap his region's deepest fears and most profound prejudices for the sake of political gain. His defiant justification of vigilante violence in retribution for the alleged rape of white women by black men was a simple but succinct expression of the volatile nexus of the South's complex and interrelated mythologies of race and gender. Yet even as Blease uttered his notorious words, a cadre of liberal white Southerners was already emerging to challenge lynching and the deadly and degrading patterns of belief that underlay the crime. Prominent among this band of dissenters was Jessie Daniel Ames, founder of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL). Throughout the 1930s the ASWPL mounted a narrowly focused but increasingly effective campaign against the most violent manifestation of Southern racism.
Although initially more a function of frontier social instability than of racial tension, by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries lynching had become an increasingly Southern and racist phenomenon. By 1909 the number of lynchings in the nation was approximately half what it had been in 1890. During this same period, the number of white victims declined from approximately 32.2 percent to about 11.4 percent, and the proportion of such crimes occurring in the South rose from roughly 82 to 92 percent of the total. Lynching, like other manifestations of de jure and de facto racism, was at least in part a legacy of attitudes informed by slavery and the turbulence of the Reconstruction era, and