crusading journalist, Ida B. Wells was born on July 16, 1862.
Although she made her mark as a journalist, she was also a social
worker, advocate, feminist, and organization leader. She too often
gets short shrift in history, mainly because she did not go along to
get along with the men of her era, crossing swords with the likes of
Dr. WEB DuBois and Booker T. Washington. The same fierceness that
pushed her to organize against lynching was the fierceness that
propelled her to confront injustice within African American
organizations and in women's organizations. Indeed, the historic
1913 Women's Suffrage March intended to either exclude Black women or
to segregate them at the end of the march. Ida B. Wells and Mary
Church Terrell were among the Black women who marched with the women
of their state, refusing to march at the rear.
B. Wells’ pen was so sharp that it got her banned from the
state of Tennessee after she besmirched white women's morality in a
treatise about lynching. No matter! She kept writing and kept it
moving, constantly speaking truth to power. Now, Rev. Jesse Jackson
is among those clamoring for an anti-lynching law, since none was
ever passed, despite several efforts. Even though anti-lynching
legislation passed the House of Representatives in 1922, Senate
Democrats prevented the passage of the law by filibuster.
any case, Ida B. Wells spent her life championing the cause of racial
justice. Unfortunately, there are too few today who have her
passion, her focus, and her energy. In these troubled times,
investigative journalists like her are far too rare. In an era when
there is so much "drive-by" reporting done by anyone with a
cell phone and access to the internet, too few are willing to put in
the kind of work that Ida B. Wells put in, even though we have more
tools than she had. Thus we get momentary Internet outrage when
out-of-control whites attack Black people. Where is the follow-up?
B. Wells had nerve, audacity. She was on fire for justice, and it
showed in her writing. Her mantra is best summarized in her quote,
"The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon
them." In her book, Southern Horrors, she detailed the horrors
of lynching and the fact that so many lynchings were the result of
rumor, not fact. Any Black man who looked sideways at the wrong
white woman was subject to lynching, so much so that even in the rare
case where Black men were acquitted of rape, rabid crowds lynched
least 3,436 people were lynched between 1889 and 1922. In just the
four years between 1918 and 1921, twenty-eight people were publicly
burned to death. And while Black men were the primary victims of
lynching, Black women, union organizers, and others were also
lynched. Because of Ida B. Wells, we have more detail than we might
have had about these horrors.
have the audacity of Ida B. Wells, but Bryan Stevenson surely does.
His National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama
lifts up the name of the more than four thousand African Americans
who were lynched in the South between 1877 and 1950. Stevenson,
through his work to save African Americans from death row, makes the
connection between historical lynching and modern-day criminal
injustice. He is as eloquent as Ida B and as purposeful. Would that
we had hundreds more of him, hundreds more of Wells.
is shameful that there is no statue of Ida B. Wells anywhere in this
nation. There should be one at Rust College in Holly Springs,
Mississippi, where she once matriculated. There should be one in
Chicago, where she lived from 1893 until her death in 1931. There
should be one somewhere in Washington, DC, perhaps along the route of
the 1913 Women's Suffrage March. She should be lifted up to remind
us of the power of audacity.
great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, has been raising money to build
a statue in Chicago, but she is still about $100,000 short of her
goal. You can donate to the cause through idabwellsmonument.org. We need to have more Black women,
and especially women like Ida B. Wells, represented in our nation's
need to be reminded of Wells and her audacity, especially now, when
so many seem to have been silenced by 45's trickery. Our African
American leaders need to stop with the complicity of go along to get
along. We need an Ida B. Wells now! (Congresswoman Maxine Waters
comes close). We need unfiltered audacity!