Not only did she list all of the victims’ names, but also their alleged crimes, and where the lynching occurred. She let the data inform readers of the scale of lawlessness that might have otherwise been hidden in various local newspaper reports around the nation.
“During the year 1894, there were 132 persons executed in the United States by due form of law, while in the same year, 197 persons were put to death by mobs who gave the victims no opportunity to make a lawful defense,” she wrote.
Frederick Douglass, the famed abolitionist and social reformer, thanked her for her powerful accounting. “There has been no word equal to it in convincing power,” he wrote. “I have spoken, but my word is feeble in comparison. You give us what you know and testify from actual knowledge. You have dealt with the facts with cool, painstaking fidelity, and left those naked and uncontradicted facts to speak for themselves.”
Compiling facts and letting them speak for themselves—with painstaking fidelity—is also what we aspire to do at The Markup. Ida B. Wells’s work is an inspiration, and we are lucky to have more tools at our disposal for data collection than she had.
Not only can we chase slippery facts by interviewing experts and using our legal right to access documents, but we also can apply computer automation to collect data at scale.
One way we use automation is web scraping, where we send a computer bot to visit tons of webpages and automatically collect the data on those pages. Here’s how it works: