The thing I keep mulling over is how Ed Johnson’s lynching was a big misstep for white supremacists. See, the thing is that white supremacy at the time wasn’t just some vague idea that white people were better than black people. It was, in part, a specific claim that this whole “wonderful” culture, especially the rule of law we lived under, was a product of, and thus a testament to white supremacy.
Lynchings had been in a strange rhetorical space already–an extra-legal way of enforcing white supremacy–but it would be hard to overestimate the effect Ida B. Wells had on white supremacists, nationally. She really was forcing them to put their money where their mouths were–if lynchings were just an early execution of a just sentence, what was wrong with the rule of law that lynch mobs couldn’t wait for the courts to work? Was the rule of law, this supposed white supremacist project, worth anything or not?
So, the interesting thing about the aftermath of Johnson’s murder is that it split the white supremacist power structure. That Baptist minister who objected to it objected to in precisely on the grounds that it was an affront to the rule of law
Which makes Dr. Baker’s stance most interesting. Dr. Baker, remember, is the spirit guide who showed up and chased off Ed Johnson’s “ghost” at the seance before “Johnson” could give more “details” about his “crime.”
Now, the way the book frames it, it’s as if a spirit definitively Johnson confesses. But reading the Daily Times article, I’m struck by the fact that Baker does not clearly identify the ghost as Johnson. He just calls him a “black spirit.” It leaves open the enormous possibility that Baker didn’t think it was Johnson and was not going to let the spirit lie.
It almost seems like a tepid defense of Johnson on Baker’s part.
I find that interesting.