Really down to the wire on my #MindforBooksPrompt post this month. Crusade for Justice by Ida B. Wells-Barnett was my plan for this post since I came up with the challenge. I’d love to say that I’d been aware of Ida B. Wells-Barnett forever but that would be a lie. I first learned about her through My Favorite Murder episode 225 “It’s Jenga” on 4th June 2020. Georgia’s story was the ‘Life of Ida B. Wells’ and Karen’s was the ‘Stonewall Uprising’. An amazing episode and one that prompted me to learn more about Ida B. Wells.
There is a lot to learn about her:
“In addition to leading the nation’s first anti-lynching campaign, Wells-Barnett co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and organized a black settlement house in Chicago, the Negro Fellowship League. She established the only black women’s suffrage club extant in Illinois when women became partially enfranchised there in 1913, and subsequently ran for a senate seat in the state. Wells-Barnett was also the instrumental force behind the first national black women’s movement in the United States.”
What an absolutely incredible woman. She was awe inspiring and inspirational. It’s ridiculous to me that she isn’t on money or something. Since that’s not the case there needs to be a movie about her and the outstanding work she started.
One of the things that was clear from the book is that she was strong willed and had the courage of her convictions.
“Wells-Barnett, who had had the wherewithal to start an anti-lynching campaign in the South virtually alone nearly two decades before- when Du Bois still was a student in Europe- certainly was not going to sit still to be lectured by wealthy white liberals, or anyone else, about the needs of the race.”
This absolutely caused her problems within the movement she more or less started. I always find it interesting that women of history (or women in general actually) who refuse to be dictated to or railroaded become ‘difficult’ or have ‘a need to dominate’. Men who do the same are often seen as ‘leaders’ and ‘assertive’. As a result of Ida B. Wells having ‘a need to dominate’ which was in fact her just being a leader…
“[…] she was marginalized by the civil rights establishment- including those who thought her too militant and yet incorporated her insights into their own strategies without crediting her.”
Wells-Barnett seemed to have been very self aware and therefore decided to set the record straight and write her autobiography in order for the work that she did not to get lost to history. Unfortunately she passed away before it was finished and her book actually stops mid-sentence which made me particularly sad. She did manage to write 45 chapters before her death though and they pack a punch.
One of the things I particularly liked about this book was how it was written. As was her way, Wells-Barnett does not sugarcoat and while it seems she had many, many, many reasons to take offence to a lot, and I feel she was well within her rights to do some major calling out of people, she often used statistical methodology and published articles of record to do the calling out or refute gossip or lies. Because the book is so article heavy it took me a little bit longer to read but I loved her articles about her British tour in particular, it had a really nice flow to it and I felt a bit like I was there with her. I mean she was a journalist so she was obviously more than capable of writing a fantastic autobiography.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett did more or less get forgotten to history though and it seems to me that men and white women took credit for her ideas and the work that she did. A tide of change seemed to start with the The New York Times Overlooked project and their article about Ida B. Wells-Barnett, 1862-1931 Ida B. Wells Took on racism in the Deep South with powerful reporting on lynchings in 2018.
“Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.”
What is truly shocking to me is that just yesterday, 29 March 2022, the US President Joe Biden signed legislation that designates lynching as a federal hate crime. Something Ida B. Wells-Barnett started advocating for over 100 years ago. Excuse the language but, what the actual fuck?
I read that three Republicans voted no to passing this legislation: Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Chip Roy of Texas and Andrew Clyde of Georgia. They argued that it was already a hate crime to lynch people in the US. I find that interesting as it could be argued, that a group of people barging into a home with a no knock warrant and murdering a woman in her bed (the murder of Breonna Taylor, 13 March 2020), or a group of police officers murdering a man on the street in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses (the murder of George Floyd, 25 May 2020), or a young man who was out for a run was chased and gunned down by white men (murder of Ahmaud Arbery, 23 February 2020), all look a bit like modern day lynching to this white non US citizen, so I think the United States of America might be very much in need of a federal law!
I made the massive mistake of reading comments on Vice President Kamala Harris tweet about the signing of the legislation. Over 100 years after Ida B. Wells-Barnett received criticism from all sides for trying to make this happen, here I was reading equal to and worse criticism of a woman of colour finally able to help see this over the line. Just horrifying really!
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a true powerhouse and her book is amazing and needs to be read by absolutely everyone in my opinion!
“Ida Wells-Barnett is to be highly lauded for her courage and magnanimity. She towers high above all of her male contemporaries and has more of the aggressive qualities than the average man. It belittles the men to some extent, to have a woman come forward and do the work that is naturally presumed to be that of the men, but Mrs. Barnett never shrinks nor evades, she is a heroine of her age and the nation is better off for her having lived in it- long live Mrs. Ida B. Wells-Barnett” (Springfield Forum 11 December 1909). The same point was reiterated by the five-year-old Chicago Defender, just beginning to make a real mark in the city. “If we only had men with the backbone of Mrs. Barnett, lynching would soon come to a halt,” said the Defender in a report on Wells-Barnett’ s appearance before three hundred people at the Bethel Literary and Historical Club (Chicago Defender 1 January 1910)
This content was originally published here.