John Bull and Jim Crow: Trans-Atlantic Conversations about Race, Empire, and Civilization, 1890-1910

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Eric Weber

Dissertation Proposal

John Bull and Jim Crow: Trans-Atlantic Conversations about Race, Empire, and Civilization, 1890-1910

In 1894, a group of British subjects, after meeting with anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, formed the British Anti-Lynching Committee (BALC). As an organization, their first act was to write letters to governors in the Southern United States urging them to do more to stop the citizens of their states from brutally lynching Black men, which Southerners did with appalling regularity; Southern governors responded to these British intrusions with scorn, claiming that race relations in the British Empire demonstrated that the Britons had no moral authority over the US South. This trans-Atlantic dialogue—an exchange amongst southern and northern African Americans, white Southerners, and British Liberals and Conservatives—articulated, compared, revised, challenged, and defended concepts including race, empire, and civilization. By examining Southern attitudes towards empire and empire’s relationship to the South, we can better understand how Southerners helped construct global ideas about white supremacy and Anglo-Saxon civilization. We can also see the roots of Southern anti-imperialism. Most of all, opening up questions of race, civilization, and empire to international dialogues moves past perceptions the US South as exceptional and instead positions it as one of many connected sites of racial conflict and construction.

My dissertation examines conversations about race relations in the US South and the British Empire. By looking at American and British conversations with and perceptions of each other, we can see how diverse groups within each state forged and contested racial and imperial ideologies. Only by studying how they conversed with and about one another can we see the ways in which US racial constructions engaged and deviated from British and European racial ideals. This project demonstrates the contingency of racial constructions, the need to move beyond the nation-state in the study of foreign relations, and the transnational character of race relations in the United States and elsewhere.

My research brings together several strands of recent historiography that have looked at the construction of American-British relations, American perceptions and theories of racial hierarchies, and Southern legalization of Jim Crow. The first strand is the history of American foreign relations itself. By looking towards the travels of people and ideas across the Atlantic, my project moves the history of US foreign relations away from a state-centered narrative. While much recent work has documented the roles of gender and race in American foreign relations, the narrative it has created continues to place white men at the center of the story.1 My project moves away from this focus, turning instead to the ways in which men and women who were not agents of the state looked upon international affairs.2 As Paul Kramer has demonstrated, American and European imperialists looked to each other as rivals but also for ideas about empire and race.3 By looking at the years before the United States actively engaged in empire- building in its own right, we can see how Americans came to view empire before they knew they would have one of their own. This dissertation examines Southerners’ impressions of imperialism before they became its vocal opponents at the turn of the century as they came to position their region as distinct from overseas empires.4

The second strand of recent historiography that this project engages is the growing literature on the New South in the world. Scholars have demonstrated that, as the New South encountered the world, it also built up a legal system of racial segregation that placed white men above ‘inferior’ races.5 Similar to histories of US foreign relations, the work on the New South in the world continues to privilege white men. Stephen Fry and Tennant McWilliams both argue that race played a role in southern foreign relations, but they do not place the US South within an imperial world that formulated theories of racial hierarchies as it established white governments in Africa and Asia. The men who center their narratives sought to bring the South further into the international economy but these authors do not treat similar constructions of white supremacy in other parts of the world. My project examines Southerners who looked abroad for allies and trade, but who also saw the world as distinctly different from themselves. Their separation from the world is evident in their constructions of whiteness and their interactions with advocates of Anglo-Saxonist doctrines. By placing race relations and race construction at the center of a transnational narrative, my dissertation will examine how the New South participated in imperial race formations and ideologies of white supremacy as it tried to promote itself to the nation and the world.6

Finally, the last strand of historiography looks at African Americans and their relationship with the world outside of the United States. Within the last decade, scholars have connected African Americans to American foreign relations, but the bulk of this work discusses the twentieth century.7 My dissertation looks back to Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching campaigns in England. Wells, whose anti-lynching speeches inspired the creation of BALC, has received considerable scholarly attention over the last decade. However, biographers have tended to accept uncritically her accounts of the trips she made abroad rather than placing them within the context of British history and the relationship between the United States and the British Empire.8 Their footnotes rarely look at sources available outside of the United States.9 Similarly, Gail Bederman has demonstrated how Wells subverted popular constructions of civilization as a white male preserve, while remaining focused on US theories about Anglo-Saxonism.10 Wells, however, did not only subvert American racial hierarchies; her speeches attacked Southern defenses of lynching by calling on Anglo-Saxonist notions of civilization, a decidedly cross-Atlantic construction. As Wells’s case demonstrates, African Americans, like white US Southerners, formed opinions about empire before the United States would become an imperial power.11 By examining African American interactions with debates about Anglo-Saxon civilization and empire, we can better approach Black commentary on American foreign relations to see how they participated in or challenged racial formations in the United States and the world.

My dissertation approaches international relations from the perspective of those who traveled abroad and who wrote about other peoples rather than those who were agents of the state. The first section will document attempts by Americans and Britons to understand race relations in the US South and in the British Empire.12 My account begins in 1890 when British journalist W. Laird Clowes journeyed to the United States and toured the US South. Though normally the London Times’s naval correspondent, Clowes detailed race relations in the Southern United States in a ten-part series published that year.13 He saw the South through an imperial lens and described race relations there by constantly referring back to the British Empire. Regularly citing the works of James Anthony Froude (historian and defender of Caribbean racial oppression) and Henry Morton Stanley (British explorer of Africa, American Civil War Veteran,14 and journalist for the New York Herald), Clowes translated US Southern race relations into something his British readers could recognize. Claiming to have spoken with the “best men,” Clowes followed many American Southerners in calling Southern lynching a defense against African male savagery. Accepting of racial oppression in the South, Clowes linked American race relations to imperial constructions of racial inferiority.

After looking at international defenses of racial segregation, the next section tackles the problem of the New South and empire. By looking at newspaper coverage (both British and American) of British immigrant laborers in the South, American imperialism, and the British empire, I will explore Southern impressions of imperialism and British race relations. While Tennant McWilliams has examined Southern anti-imperialism, like the vocal, racist, anti-empire speeches of South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman, his account begins with the proposed annexation of Hawaii in 1890 not with the world outside of US territory.15 The annexation of Hawaii is important in the development of Southern anti-imperialism, but equally significant, were white Southern interactions with European empires. Southerners did not only see the British Empire as a competitor in the search for cotton markets. As white Southerners constructed labor regimes that echoed many other regimes in the imperial world, they saw empire not as similar to but as distinct from their own practices. This section will contextualize Wells’s international anti-lynching campaign by documenting the prejudices that Southern politicians already held concerning the British empire.

After this section, I will examine Ida B. Wells’s two speaking tours of England and the conversations that they inspired. The responses to her trips from both sides of the Atlantic highlight the nature of international ideas about race and the problematic and contingent construction of them. This section will explore the men and women who made up BALC. Several visited the United States before they saw Wells, and they would have already had some impression as to the state of the South before she arrived to speak to them. Prominent British Liberal politicians, women’s suffrage activists, and Nonconformist ministers, BALC’s members were not anti-imperialist. Instead, they tended to believe that imperialism should offer the benefits of Anglo-Saxon civilization to lesser peoples rather than forcing them to work for the betterment of British colonists or simply allowing them to become extinct (as dominant theories of racial stratification believed that they would). In responding to BALC, white US Southerners and British supporters defended white Southerners’ supposed need to lynch black men, and white US Northerners took both sides. BALC and Wells will occupy a significant part of the dissertation because of the way their cases highlight tensions within the British Empire and the United States as each defined white supremacy and blackness in ways that legitimated violence against their subjects and citizens of color.

After looking at Wells and the British Empire, I will conclude by looking to African American responses to American imperialism. Empire took a different form from the perspective of African American activists and soldiers, and I will explore African American participation in the imperial mission and constructions of themselves as American during the legitimation of Jim Crow regimes in the US South. With the case of the Philippine Conquest, African American men and women, soldiers and activists, saw American imperialism both as a problem and as an opportunity. The racialized defense of imperialism tended to leave them out of the American mission, yet their participation in it could open space for them to claim full American citizenship which white Southerners were actively denying them. In South Africa, tellingly, African American visitors received honorary white status by virtue of their Americanness.16 By examining these various sites of contact and commentary, we can better understand how international events and transnational concepts intersect with and influence the construction and performance of American race relations.

These individual cases will allow me not only to explore Americans’ interactions with and commentary on the world outside of the country’s borders, but also to docunent the international movement of ideas about race, civilization, and empire. During the period covered by this dissertation, the United States built an empire that it designed in opposition to European empires. However, European empires looked to the construction of white supremacy in the US South for inspiration and instruction as they built race into their colonial enterprises. By placing Jim Crow and the New South in a transnational perspective and in dialogue with the British Empire, we can better see how the US South fit into an imperial world.
Sources and Archives

The English-speaking, Atlantic world at the turn of the century was one in which newspapers and journals passed national boundaries. The bulk of my work will involve reading newspapers from 1890 through 1910 to see how these papers engaged international events and conversations. In the South, I will concentrate on papers from major cities that were involved in international trade and in the promotion of a New South: Louisville, KY, Atlanta, GE, Raleigh, NC, Birmingham, AL, and Charleston, SC. I will also examine the correspondence and personal papers of Southern governors at the time of Wells’s trips to England and BALC’s letter writing campaign.

Clowes published his ten-part series as a book, which I will examine it in conjunction with other British travelers’ accounts of the American South. Clowes was not the only Briton to tackle the problem, as he saw it, of race relations in the US South; these accounts will allow me to see how British writers understood the South and how they interpreted Southern race relations. Of interest too will be published accounts in international journals. Many English-language journals cultivated readers across the Atlantic, and they commented upon race and empire in both the US and Great Britain.

In England, my research will focus on two goals: reading British newspaper accounts of Wells’s campaigns and examining the personal papers of BALC members. The British Library has an entire facility dedicated to preserving British newspapers. If the clippings from Ida B. Wells’s records are any indication, her speeches received considerable attention in religious and Liberal circles. Reading the full accounts that she excerpted will help me better understand the reception that she received. Her personal papers contain clippings from sympathetic newspapers; by traveling to British archives, I will also search for unfavorable reviews of her campaigns. I will also look for articles about race relations in the United States that do not have anything to do with Wells to see if her trips caused British papers to rethink their position on lynching or merely supported opinions that British papers already had. Many of BALC’s prominent members have left their papers, and I will look through them to see what they can reveal about BALC’s activities and its end—which remains mysterious with the evidence available in the United States.

Finally, I will seek out collections of African American newspapers. While they are more scarce than white newspapers, there are collections of them in Washington, DC at Howard University and in Madison, WI. I will examine these collections to see how Black newspapers covered Wells’s journeys and how they commented upon the British Empire as well as the American one. At Howard University, I will also examine Henry McNeal Turner’s papers. A Black minister, Turner visited South Africa in the 1890s. Frederick Douglass’s papers may also reveal people that Wells encountered in England; Douglass provided introductions for Wells when she left for England. African American sources will allow me to explore the multiple and contested responses to empire and African American attitudes toward the idea of a civilizing mission itself. Doing so will look at Black understandings of their place in the world during a time when their own country denied them their full rights as citizens and place American race relations within the imperial world.


The Age of Empire saw the further articulation of white supremacy at multiple sites in European empires and the United States. By studying international discussions of American race relations and white US Southern discussions of European empires and placing them next African American responses to empire, my dissertation will open the history of US foreign relations at the turn of the century to alternate voices. Instead of concentrating at those at the head of the state or Southern white men who promoted their region to the world, it looks to travelers and activists. They too participated in transnational discussions of race, empire, and civilization. Their voices provide a means of contextualizing the US South within a larger world. Americans looked at empire before they had one of their own. In doing so, they either challenged their own citizens to live up to their ideas of civilization or measured themselves against other peoples. Looking at these conversations enriches our understanding of the history of Jim Crow and its relationship to John Bull.

1 Connections between the United States and European empires have receieved scholarly attention lately. Andrew Zimmerman recently explored the relationship between the German empire and African American men and women and linked work regimes and racial constructions in the US South to those in German Togo, see Andrew Zimmerman, "A German Alabama in Africa: The Tuskegee Expedition to German Togo and the Transnational Origins of West African Cotton Growers," The American Historical Review 110 (2005): 1362-1398. Ann Laura Stoler’s most recent collection includes many articles that look at the United States during the Age of Empire, see Ann Laura Stoler, ed., Haunted by Empire; Geographies of Intimacy in North American History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).

2 Daniel Rodgers and James Kloppenberg have examined transnational progressivism and social democracy from the 1890s through the 1940s. While many of the people in their works were not at the head of the state, they were part of an educated elite. My project differs from theirs by looking at how the people of the South understood their connections to and distinctions from the British empire rather than the development of social democracy. See James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) and Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998).

3 Paul A. Kramer, “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880-1910,” Journal of American History, Vol. 88, No. 4 (Mar., 2002), 1316. As Stuart Anderson has demonstrated, Anglo-Saxonism played a significant role both in the construction of the United States as an imperial state and in the developing rapprochement between the United States and the British Empire, see Stuart Anderson, Race and Rapprochement: Anglo-Saxonism and Anglo-American Relations, 1895-1904 (London: Associated University Presses, 1981).

4 For more on Southern opposition to American imperialism see Christopher Lasch “The Anti-Imperialists, the Philippines, and the Inequality of Man,” Journal of Southern History, 24:3 (August, 1958), pp. 319-331, Eric T.L. Love. Race over Empire: Racism and U.S. Imperialism, 1865-1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), and Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000)

5 Two works have examined the relationship of Southern political leaders to the world during this period; neither explores the role of African Americans or their interactions with other countries. See Joseph A. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad: The South and U.S. Foreign Relations, 1789-1973 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000) and Tennant S. McWilliams, The New South Faces the World: Foreign Affairs and the Southern Sense of Self, 1877-1950 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988). Erin McClune has examined the growing population of white immigrants on the South at this time and their effect on labor and race relations, see Erin Elizabeth McClune, “Black Workers, White Immigrants, and the Postemancipation Problem of Labor: the New South in a Global Perspective,” in Susan Delfino and Michelle Gillespie, eds., Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005), 199-228. McWilliams focuses on the tension between Southern anti-imperialism and imperialism, but his account centers prominent white men in Southern politics and New South ideology. Instead, my account focuses on Southern newspaper accounts of British imperialism to see how Southern Americans viewed empire as well as asking how Southern African American men and women saw imperialism.

6 Connections between the US South and South Africa are well-studied. My project moves beyond the comparisons of white supremacist regimes in the early twentieth century to look at how the US South participated in the construction of racial categories across an imperial world. John W. Cell, The Highest Stage of White Supremacy: the Origins of Segregation in South Africa and the US South, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982) connects white supremacy in the US South to the development of Apartheid in South Africa. My dissertation moves away from the comparisons of white supremacy in these two places and looks at it within the broader history of American and British imperialism. Sven Beckert. “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the Worldwide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the American Civil War,” American Historical Review, 109-5 (December 2004), 1405-1438 argues that after the American Civil War, similar economic systems of tenant farmers and debt peonage developed around cotton producers around the world and including the South. See also, Matthew Guterl and Christine Skwiot, “Atlantic and Pacific Crossings: Race, Empire, and "the Labor Problem" in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Radical History Review 2005 (91): 40-61.

7 For more information on African American foreign relations, see Brenda Gayle Plummer, Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935-1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996) and Michael L. Krenn, Black Diplomacy: African Americans and the State Department, 1945-1969 (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1999).

8 See Patricia Ann Schechter, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) and Linda McMurry Edwards, To Keep the Waters Troubled : the Life of Ida B. Wells (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

9 They also contain errors about the membership of BALC. For example, Edwards misreads newspaper accounts of BALC’s founding and incorrectly identifies its members. John Gorst, who traveled to the US South to see race relations firsthand, is identified as the Duke of Argyll. Argyll was, in fact, the head of BALC and a different man who had served in Liberal governments. Gorst, in contrast, was the only Conservative member of BALC, although he broke with the party in the 1890s over the question of Irish Home Rule. See Edwards, 222 and 227.

10 Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). Though she notes, “Wells spoke to British audiences, but her goal was to convince Americans that their tolerance of lynching rendered them unmanly savages in the eyes of the civilized world,” she does not discuss how the ‘civilized world’ participated in these debates, see 61.

11 For a look at African American engagement with American empire after 1898, see Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., Black Americans and the White Man’s Burden, 1898-1903 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975). See also, Richard E. Welch, Jr., Response to Imperialism: The United States and the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979). Recent works that examine the role of race or gender in the making of US imperialism include: Kristin L. Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998) and Paul A. Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

12 Besides Clowes, South African Maurice Evans would also tour the US South. Evans was a powerful advocate for racial separation in South Africa during the early twentieth century, and he drew from his travels in the United States when advocating separation in his home country. See Maurice F. Evans, Black and White in the Southern States: A Study of the Race Problem in the United States from a South African Point of View (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001). Evans’s book originally appeared in 1916.

13 The ten-part series “The Negro Question in the United States” appeared in the Times of London between November 1890 and January 1891

14 On both sides of the conflict.

15 See McWilliams, The New South Faces the World.

16 See Robert Vinson, "Citizenship Over Race?: African Americans in American-South African Diplomacy, 1890-1925," World History Connected November 2004. See also, Zimmerman, “A German Alabama in Africa.”

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