When interviewed, Chief of Police Phineas Eversman said that he was unaware of any lynching that previous evening in Eudora. A visitor in Chief Eversman's office, the respected Eudora Justice Everett Corbett, agreed. "I too know nothing about a lynching in Eudora." (26.9)
According to the newspapers, nothing is going on down in Eudora. But we know this isn't true because there are reports of what happened at a lynching. It's clear that people like the police chief and Judge Corbett are more interested in not getting involved than they are in telling the truth or making a safe community.
"We're not asking for public displays any more than you are," said Wells-Barnett, warming to the discussion. "As you recall, sir, when you invited Booker Washington to dine at the White House, it caused a political headache for you and accomplished absolutely nothing for the cause of colored people." (48.12)
W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells-Barnett have a secret meeting with President Roosevelt regarding race. To put it another way, they urge him to do something about the problem. They understand he can't march in the streets with them, but something needs to be done. Instead, the President just sits back and waits.
"Why does the crowd lift no hand or voice in protest?" Twain said. "Only because it would be unpopular to do it, I think. Each man is afraid of his neighbor's disapproval—a thing which, to the general run of the race, is more dreaded than wounds and death." (56.27)
Mark Twain talks about people standing by when Ben and Elizabeth hear him speak. He points out that people don't enjoy watching a lynching—they are more interested in going with the flow so no one turns on them. We see this happening in Eudora when Ben gets pummeled the minute he sticks his neck out for his Black friends.
I was still waiting for an answer from the White House. Maybe my telegram had been too concise? Too curt or disrespectful to send to the president? Maybe Roosevelt had forgotten about me? (58.1)
To call Ben frustrated here would be an understatement. He's confused. Why wouldn't the President get back to him? He's been sent down there by the guy, and then hears nothing back from his telegram. To Ben, it feels like the guy has given up because he's no longer active in solving the problem.
There were groans from the congregation. It seemed to me that most of them had been turning the other cheek their entire lives. (63.11)
In the church, Ben witnesses another type of passivity. Some people sit by and do nothing to stop the hate spreading like wildfire all around town, and others do nothing when they are the ones being targeted. Here we see that sometimes inaction can be a good thing—if it's done in the right way.
"You mean, because we haven't heard from Roosevelt?" I asked. "I don't understand that at all. I almost got hanged for him." (72.17)
Check out what Ben says about his hanging being for Roosevelt. It's not merely that he was hanged by the White Raiders, or got himself into trouble for doing what's right—he directly blames Roosevelt for his suffering in Eurdoa, which makes the President's lack of response all the more annoying.
"Look, I ain't gonna stand here and argue with the likes of you," she said. "I don't know how I could make it any clearer. We got no rooms available for you. So if you don't mind, I will thank you to go on and leave the house now." (74.7)
Once Ben's made an enemy of the White Raiders, Maybelle doesn't want to get involved with his problems. She tells him he can't stay at her place anymore. She's not one of the KKK or out shooting people like the White Raiders, but we're not sure she's any better than them either since she sits by and lets that stuff happen by not standing up to it.
Part 5, Chapter 89
"Those men must have thought I'd forgotten all about them." He laughed, a big booming Roosevelt laugh. "I think I showed great wisdom not to respond to their first report, but to let them draw their own conclusions as to what should be done." (89.21)
Roosevelt must think highly of himself—or so it seems when he congratulates himself for all of Ben's work in Eudora. It doesn't seem fair or right, and even Roosevelt's henchman (Hensen) is floored by the President's arrogance here.
"White men charged for killing black men, right down there in the heart of Dixie. Now let Du Bois and that Wells-Barnett woman try to tell me I have ignored the N**** problem!" (89.9)
Roosevelt comes across as pretty ignorant here. He's proud of the work that Ben's doing, but he uses it to pretend that he's been a part of the change in Eudora. In reality, though, he's sitting pretty in the oval office while Ben gets his hands—and neck—dirty.
"That's why you didn't answer my telegrams?"
"It wasn't convenient for me to hear from you yet," he said. "But then we had the most magnificent stroke of luck when the Raiders Trial came along!" (139.14-15)
Ben can hardly believe his ears when Roosevelt calls the trial lucky—it nearly tore the town apart and only took place because people died. It's clear that the President is only willing to get involved as it suits him, and Ben notices how selfish and wrong that is for a leader.