Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2014


Ida B. Wells stood before a crowd of the social hierarchy of black women from Boston, Brooklyn, New York City, and Philadelphia at New York’s Lyric Hall on October 5, 1892.

Wells’ 1892 testimonial, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases, is the founding rhetorical text in the anti-lynching movement that called for a moral, religious, and legal referendum on lynching in America. By forsaking all of the commonplace rationale for lynching and the Southern social comfort that came with it, Wells reframed the simplistic characterizations of lynching with new questions to demonstrate its structural features. With the cleavage of politics and economics to lynching, Wells would offer a new interpretation of lynching and emerge as the principle shaper of America’s anti-lynching crusade.

Anita August examines Wells’ 1892 testimony at Lyric Hall using an interdisciplinary reading from rhetorical theory, legal brief writing, anthropology, cognitive psychology, and historical criticism to illustrate how these bodies of knowledge discursively intersect and interact in articulating the shaping presence of the agent. The notion of a shaping presence is distinguished in five ways in which it acts as a rhetorical framing of both the agent and Wells' visual and verbal discourse.



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