Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Josephine Wilkins, 1972. Interview G-0063. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Jessie Daniel Ames and her leadership style

Wilkins describes her friendship with Jessie Daniel Ames, leader of the Commission of Interracial Cooperation. Having worked together in the League of Women Voters, Wilkins explains how Ames was an effective leader whose central social justice cause revolved around notions of racial violence, specifically as related to lynching. Wilkins explains how religion offered Ames a source for mobilizing women and she argues that challenging social and cultural ideas that conflated lynching with the protection of "white womanhood" lay at the center of Ames's activism. Her comments are revealing of the characteristics and strategies of effective leadership in that interracial organization.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Josephine Wilkins, 1972. Interview G-0063. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Oh, yes, Ames was my treasurer when I was president of the League of Women Voters. That was where my contact with her - but I knew her before that time because I remember going out to talk with her about taking the presidency. So I knew her before that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you think of her anti-lynching association? Why did you not get involved in that?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
Well, I just think it was perfectly marvelous.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But you didn't get involved in it. Why was that?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
You can't do everything. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
One reason I ask is because it seemed like the organizations and the women who were most involved in that particular thing were not people from the League of Women Voters but church women, people from that angle of things. And I thought maybe that you were much more involved in political activity.
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
Church women were an excellent vehicle for that kind of thing. Because she carried religion into this. I remember, what was that woman's name, down in south Georgia. She was baking a cake on Christmas, and a telephone call came about a threatened lynching. And she left her cake and went dashing to see the sheriff in the next town. Of course the cake fell, but it didn't make much difference about the cake. But they did a magnificent job.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were they really successful in reaching people in rural communities?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
What they did, you know, they went around and talked to sheriffs, and got the signatures of sheriffs, pledging that they would try to prevent lynchings. And if a lynching was threatened, that the sheriff would get in touch with one of them and let them know it. And of course at that time all this lynching business was in large part to so-called protect white womanhood, and so it was perfectly natural that this would be a woman's thing and natural that religion should be brought into it - taking life.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It seems that most of her energy did go into that lynching campaign. Is that right?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
It was her brainchild. She came from Texas to the Interracial Commission to head up the women's work. And she borned this anti-lynching program.
JACQUELYN HALL:
For ten years. It seems she was very careful to keep the association on one track. There were a lot of conflicts between her and Walter White of the NAACP over what could be defined as a lynching. Toward the end of the period the NAACP was talking about lynchings going underground and legal lynching, things that were not great mobs and what was traditionally called a lynching. She didn't want the organization to support federal anti-lynching legislation and get into political action. It should be very single-mindedly aimed at preventing mob lynching in the South. Yet she herself was a very political woman, and her own interests and understandings were much broader than that, it seems to me. Is that . . . ?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
She knew strategy, do you see. I think you hit on something right there that is very important. And that is that it's always true that your interests and the things that you support can be far wider than this thing that you're just driving at. If you want to get something done in that, oftentimes you have to hold these things in abeyance more or less.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How would you compare her attitudes and political ideas to your own at that time?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
Well, of course Ames' work and her interest was focussed on the Negro, on the situation of the Negro. She accepted work in that field.