Ray Stannard Baker

Ray Stannard Baker

Ray Stannard Baker was born in Michigan in 1870. He joined McClure's Magazine, where he worked with Lincoln Steffens and Ira Tarbell in the kind of investigative journalism that became known as muckraking. Baker himself was involved in exposing railroad and financial corruption.

In February 1905 he wrote an article on lynching for the McClure's Magazine: "On Monday afternoon the mob began to gather. At first it was an absurd, ineffectual crowd, made up largely of lawless boys of sixteen to twenty - a pronounced feature of every mob - with a wide fringe of more respectable citizens, their hands in their pockets and no convictions in their souls, looking on curiously, helplessly... A sort of dry rot, a moral paralysis, seems to strike the administrators of law in a town like Springfield. What can be expected of officers who are not accustomed to enforce the law, or of a people not accustomed to obey it - or who make reservations and exceptions when they do enforce it or obey it?... So the mob came finally, and cracked the door of the jail with a railroad rail. This jail is said to be the strongest in Ohio, and having seen it, I can well believe that the report is true. But steel bars have never yet kept out a mob; it takes something a good deal stronger: human courage backed up by the consciousness of being right. They murdered the Negro in cold blood in the jail doorway; then they dragged him to the principal business street and hung him to a telegraph-pole, afterward riddling his lifeless body with revolver shots."

In 1906 Baker joined with Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and William A. White to establish the radical American Magazine. Steffens's biographer, Justin Kaplan, the author of Lincoln Steffens: A Biography (1974), has argued: "That summer he and his partners celebrated their freedom from McClure's house of bondage, as they now saw it. There was a spirit of picnic and honeymoon about the enterprise; affections, loyalties, professional comradeship had never seemed quite so strong before and never would again. They dealt with each other as equals." Steffens later commented: "We were all to edit a writers' magazine." It soon established itself as one of America's leading investigative magazines. However, its opponents accused the magazine of muckraking journalism.

President Theodore Roosevelt responded to investigative journalism by initiating legislation that would help tackle some of the problems illustrated by these journalist. This included persuading Congress to pass reforms such as the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Federal Meat Inspection Act (1906).

Lincoln Steffens and Roy Stannard Baker The New York World (December, 1905)
Lincoln Steffens and Roy Stannard Baker
The New York World (December, 1905)

President Theodore Roosevelt was seen to be on the side of these investigative journalists until David Graham Phillips began a series of articles in Cosmopolitan entitled The Treason in the Senate. This included an attack on some of Roosevelt's political allies and he responded with a speech where he compared the investigative journalist with the muckraker in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress: "the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth on the floor."

Investigative journalists like Baker objected to being described as muckrakers. They felt betrayed as they felt they had helped President Theodore Roosevelt to get elected. Lincoln Steffens was furious with Roosevelt and the day after the speech told him: "Well, you have put an end to all these journalistic investigations that have made you." Baker argued: "In the beginning I thought, and still think, he did great good in giving support and encouragement to this movement. But I did not believe then, and have never believed since, that these ills can be settled by partisan political methods. They are moral and economic questions. Latterly I believe Roosevelt did a disservice to the country in seizing upon a movement that ought to have been built up slowly and solidly from the bottom with much solid thought and experimentation, and hitching it to the cart of his own political ambitions. He thus short-circuited a fine and vigorous current of aroused public opinion into a futile partisan movement."

Ray Stannard Baker
Ray Stannard Baker

In 1908 Baker produced a series of five articles on the plight of the African Americans. In this pioneering work in the study of race relations in the United States, Baker dealt with issues such as political leadership, Jim Crow laws, lynching and poverty. These articles were eventually turned into the book, Following the Color Line (1908).

In May 1912 Baker covered the Lawrence Textile Strike: "It is not short of amazing, the power of a great idea to weld men together. There was in it a peculiar, intense, vital spirit if you will, that I have never felt before in any strike. At first everyone predicted that it would be impossible to hold these divergent people together, but aside from the skilled men, some of whom belonged to craft unions, comparatively few went back to the mills. And as a whole, the strike was conducted with little violence."

Other books written by Baker include Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement (1922), Adventures in Understanding (1925) and Adventures in Solitude (1931).

Ray Stannard Baker died on 12th July 1946.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Ray Stannard Baker, Outlook Magazine (26th March, 1898)

The Nineteenth Ward is fertile soil for growing a ward boss. Its population consists of Italians, Polish and Russian Jews, Irish of the poorest class, and the offscourings of a dozen other nationalities. They live huddled together in ill-smelling houses, and few of the older people, many of whom are day laborers, have any understanding of American institutions, or even of the English language. They are capable of being herded and driven by any one who is strong enough to wield the rod.

Johnny Powers has been the undisputed political boss for many years. Powers has been more than ordinarily successful as a ward boss. He is cool-headed, cunning, and wholly unscrupulous, and yet he possesses the effective gift known, for lack of a better name, as "good-fellowship" or good-heartedness". Among his constituents he appears in his kingly aspects of unlimited power and benevolence. He impresses them with the primitive generosity which has turkeys to give away by thousands at Christmas time, which elevates a faithful follower to a position on the city pay-roll in a single day, or discharges him with equal ease. He is the feudal lord who governs his retainers with open-handed liberality or crushes them to poverty as it suits his nearest purpose.

The streets and alleys of the ward were notoriously filthy, and the contractors habitually neglected them, not failing, however, to draw their regular payments from the city treasury. At last it fell to the women of Hull House to take the initiative. Miss Addams herself applied for the position of garbage inspector, and, to the astonishment of Johnny Powers and his retainers, received the appointment. Within two months the Nineteenth Ward was one of the cleanest in the city.

(2) Ray Stannard Baker, McClure's Magazine (February, 1905)

Well, on Monday afternoon the mob began to gather. At first it was an absurd, ineffectual crowd, made up largely of lawless boys of sixteen to twenty - a pronounced feature of every mob - with a wide fringe of more respectable citizens, their hands in their pockets and no convictions in their souls, looking on curiously, helplessly. They gathered hooting around the jail, cowardly, at first, as all mobs are, but growing bolder as darkness came on and no move was made to check them. The murder of Collis was not a horrible, soul-rending crime like that at Statesboro, Georgia; these men in the mob were not personal friends of the murdered man; it was a mob from the back rooms of the swarming saloons of Springfield; and it included also the sort of idle boys "who hang around cigar stores," as one observer told me. The newspaper reports are fond of describing lynching mobs as "made up of the foremost citizens of the town." In no cases that I know of, either South or North, has a mob been made up of what may be called the best citizens; but the best citizens have often stood afar off "decrying the mob" - as a Springfield man told me piously - and letting it go on. A mob is the method by which good citizens turn over the law and the government to the criminal or irresponsible classes.

And no official in direct authority in Springfield that evening, apparently, had so much as an ounce of grit within him. The sheriff came out and made a weak speech in which he said he "didn't want to hurt anybody." They threw stones at him and broke his windows. The chief of police sent eighteen men to the jail but did not go near himself. All of these policemen undoubtedly sympathized with the mob in its efforts to get at the slayer of their brother officer; at least, they did nothing effective to prevent the lynching. An appeal was made to the Mayor to order out the engine companies that water might be turned on the mob. He said he didn't like to; the hose might be cut! The local militia company was called to its barracks, but the officer in charge hesitated, vacillated, doubted his authority, and objected finally because he had no ammunition except Krag-Jorgenson cartridges, which, if fired into a mob, would kill too many people! The soldiers did not stir that night from the safe and comfortable precincts of their armory.

A sort of dry rot, a moral paralysis, seems to strike the administrators of law in a town like Springfield. What can be expected of officers who are not accustomed to enforce the law, or of a people not accustomed to obey it - or who make reservations and exceptions when they do enforce it or obey it?

When the sheriff made his speech to the mob, urging them to let the law take its course they jeered him. The law! When, in the past, had the law taken its proper course in dark County? Someone shouted, referring to Dixon:

"He'll only get fined for shooting in the city limits."

"He'll get ten days in jail and suspended sentence."

Then there were voices:

"Let's go hang Mower and Miller" - the two judges.

This threat, indeed, was frequently repeated both on the night of the lynching and on the day following.

So the mob came finally, and cracked the door of the jail with a railroad rail. This jail is said to be the strongest in Ohio, and having seen it, I can well believe that the report is true. But steel bars have never yet kept out a mob; it takes something a good deal stronger: human courage backed up by the consciousness of being right.

They murdered the Negro in cold blood in the jail doorway; then they dragged him to the principal business street and hung him to a telegraph-pole, afterward riddling his lifeless body with revolver shots.

That was the end of that. Mob justice administered. And there the Negro hung until daylight the next morning - an unspeakably grisly, dangling horror, advertising the shame of the town. His head was shockingly crooked to one side, his ragged clothing, cut for souvenirs, exposed in places his bare body: he dripped blood. And, with the crowds of men both here and at the morgue where the body was publicly exhibited, came young boys in knickerbockers, and little girls and women by scores, horrified but curious. They came even with baby carriages! Men made jokes: "A dead nigger is a good nigger." And the purblind, dollars-and-cents man, most despicable of all, was congratulating the public:

'"It'll save the county a lot of money!"

Significant lessons, these, for the young!

But the mob wasn't through with its work. Easy people imagine that, having hanged a Negro, the mob goes quietly about its business; but that is never the way of the mob. Once released, the spirit of anarchy spreads and spreads, not subsiding until it has accomplished its full measure of evil.

(3) Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line (1908)

One of the points in which I was especially interested was the Jim Crow regulations, that is, the system of separation of the races in street cars and railroad trains.

I was curious to see how the system worked out in Atlanta. Over the door of each car, I found the sign: "White people will seat from front of car toward the back and colored people from toward front". Sure enough, I found the white people in front and the Negroes behind.

As the sign indicates, there is no definite line of division between the white seats and the black seats, as in many other Southern cities. This very absence of a clear demarcation is significant of many relationships in the South. The colour line is drawn, but neither race knows just where it is. Indeed, it can hardly be definitely drawn in many relationships, because it is constantly changing. This uncertainty is a fertile source of friction and bitterness.

The very first time I was on a car in Atlanta, I saw the conductor - all conductors are white - ask a Negro woman to get up and take a seat farther back in order to make a place for a white man. I have also seen white men requested to leave the Negro section of the car.

"We pay first-class fare," said one of the leading Negroes in Atlanta, "exactly as the white man does, but we don't get first-class service. I say it isn't fair."

Charles T. Hopkins, a leader in the Civic League and one of the prominent lawyers of the city, told me that he believed the Negroes should be given their definite seats in every car; he said that he personally made it a practice to stand up rather than to take any one of the four back seats, which he considered as belonging to the Negroes.

(4) Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line (1908)

A few years ago no hotel or restaurant in Boston refused Negro guests; now several hotels, restaurants, and especially confectionary stores, will not serve Negroes, even the best of them. The discrimination is not made openly, but a Negro who goes to such places is informed that there are no accommodations, or he is overlooked and otherwise slighted, so that he does not come again. A strong prejudice exists against renting flats and houses in many white neighbourhoods to coloured people. The Negro in Boston, as in other cities, is building up "quarters," which he occupies to the increasing exclusion of other classes of people.

(5) Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line (1908)

In the sixteen years from 1984 to 1900 the number of persons lynched in the United States was 2,516. Of these 2,080 were in the Southern states and 436 in the North; 1,678 were Negroes and 801 were white men; 2,465 were men and 51 were women. Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia - the black belt states - are thus seen to have the worst records.

Every argument on lynching in the South gets back sooner or later to the question of rape. Ask any high-class citizen - the very highest - if he believes in lynching, and he will tell you roundly, "No". Ask him about lynching for rape, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he will instantly weaken.

Lynching, he says, is absolutely necessary to keep down this crime. You ask him why the law cannot be depended upon, and he replies: "It is too great an ordeal for the self-respecting white woman to go into court and accuse the Negro ravisher and withstand a public cross-examination. It is intolerable. No woman will do it. And, besides, the courts are uncertain. Lynching is the only remedy."

If the white man sets an example of non-obedience to law, of non-enforcement of law, and an example of non-obedience to law, of non-enforcement of law, and of unequal justice, what can be expected of the Negro? A criminal father is a poor preacher of homilies to a wayward son. The Negro sees a man, white or black, commit murder and go free, over and over again in all these lynching counties. Why should he fear to murder?

(6) Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line (1908)

Nothing has been more remarkable in the recent history of the Negro than Washington's rise to influence as a leader, and the spread of his ideals of education and progress. It is noteworthy that he was born in the South, a slave, that he knew intimately the common struggling life of the people and the attitude of the white race toward them. The central idea of his doctrine is work. He teaches that if the Negro wins by real worth a strong economic position in the country, other rights and privileges will come to him naturally. He should get his rights, not by gift of the white man, but by earning them himself.

Whenever I found a prosperous Negro enterprise, a thriving business place, a good home, there I was almost sure to find Booker T. Washington's picture over the fireplace or a little framed motto expressing his gospel of work and service. Many highly educated Negroes, especially, in the North, dislike him and oppose him, but he has brought new hope and given new courage to the masses of his race. He has given them a working plan of life. And is there a higher test of usefulness? Measured by any standard, white or black, Washington must be regarded today as one of the great men of this country: and in the future he will be so honored.

(7) Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line (1908)

Dr. Du Bois was born in Massachusetts of a family that had no history that had no history of Southern slavery. He has a large intermixture of white blood. Broadly educated at Harvard and in the universities of Germany, he is today one of the most able sociologists of this country.

His economic studies of the Negro made for the United States Government and for the Atlanta University conference (which he organised) are works of sound scholarship and furnish the student with the best single source of accurate information regarding the Negro at present obtainable in this country. And no book gives a deeper insight into the inner life of the Negro, his struggles and his aspirations, than, The Souls of Black Folk.

Dr. Du Bois has the temperament of the scholar and idealist - critical, sensitive, humorous, impatient, often covering its deep feeling with sarcasm and cynicism. "What shall the Negro do about discrimination?" his answer was the exact reverse of Washington's: it was the voice of Massachusetts: "Do not submit! agitate, object, fight."

(8) Ray Stannard Baker, comments on Theodore Roosevelt (1910)

In the beginning I thought, and still think, he did great good in giving support and encouragement to this movement. But I did not believe then, and have never believed since, that these ills can be settled by partisan political methods. They are moral and economic questions. Latterly I believe Roosevelt did a disservice to the country in seizing upon a movement that ought to have been built up slowly and solidly from the bottom with much solid thought and experimentation, and hitching it to the cart of his own political ambitions. He thus short-circuited a fine and vigorous current of aroused public opinion into a futile partisan movement.

(9) Ray Stannard Baker, Lawrence Textile Strike, American Magazine (May, 1912)

It is not short of amazing, the power of a great idea to weld men together. There was in it a peculiar, intense, vital spirit if you will, that I have never felt before in any strike. At first everyone predicted that it would be impossible to hold these divergent people together, but aside from the skilled men, some of whom belonged to craft unions, comparatively few went back to the mills. And as a whole, the strike was conducted with little violence.

(10) Lincoln Steffens, Autobiography (1931)

Ray Stannard Baker came to Chicago, and with my references for a start and my idea for a title, wrote a stirring article, Capital and Labour Get Together. While I had been reporting political corruption, Ray Stannard Baker had been describing the corruption of labor unions by contractors in the building business, and Miss Ida M. Tarbell had been writing the history of the Standard Oil Company.

© John Simkin, April 2013