Ida B. Wells (1862-1931): A Passion for Justice (1989)

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931): A Passion for Justice (1989)

  • After the Civil War – 4 million freed slaves
    • The right to marry, raise children, own property, be protected by law
    • 2 years later, Black me got the right to vote
  • Ida Wells was born in 1862 in Mississippi
    • Father was the son of his master, plantation owner & his mother was a slave
  • After the war, the Wells couple married properly & legally
    • Ida went to school with her mother
  • At the end of the war, 90% of slaves were illiterate because it had been illegal to teach slaves to read
    • Public schools opened up in the South
    • Ida’s mother went to school to be able to read the Bible
    • All her teachers were White Northerners
    • Her father asked her to read him the newspapers which got her into politics
  • The Southern economy was in ruins because it had been dependent on slaves
    • Papers, schools & churches reacted to freedom & reinforced ideas that Blacks were inferior
  • 1878 – Yellow Fever hit Mississippi delta – both her parents died of it
    • Children were planned to be divided up among family
      • But she urged the family be allowed to stay together. So she left school, dressed up a bit more & got a teaching job in Memphis, a city thriving in the post-war economy where half the city was black
      • She joined the Lyceum – a black literary society
  • The Ku Klux Klan rounded up freed men & transported them to forms to pick cotton
    • Small Black middle class was emerging – doctors, lawyers, farmers, shopkeepers, legislators
    • 1877 – US Federal troops were withdrawn from the South & within 5 years, Federal equality laws were overturned & Southern States controlled Civil Rights. Reconstruction ended
    • Laws forced Blacks into subordinate position & intimidation set in, inspiring Ida
      • Segregation was also a result of the laws
      • She bit a train conductor moving her to a Black car. She later sued & was awarded $500. She lost the appeal though
      • She wrote articles about the case in newspapers
    • Starting her career as a journalist, advocating self-help, education & social reform
      • Lost her teaching job after exposing the poor conditions of Memphis schools. She became a full-time journalist & editor of the “Memphis Free Speech”
      • Generally, law & order with respect to Civil Rights collapsed, including lynching, propaganda against Blacks, riots & mobs. She wrote on these
      • Gun control was only put on the books to stop blacks from owning guns
      • She suggested Blacks leave Memphis for move just places westward, causing panic with the whites remaining (6000 left to the west)
      • She led a trolley boycott in Memphis
      • Lynchings justified for rape & murders – she investigated these claims & found no evidence
      • She suggested white women start relations with black men to inflame hatred & protest
      • While in New York at a conference, protesters smashed up her paper’s buildings. She stayed out of the South for 30 years & began work at the “New York Age” & got national attention
      • She got a lot of speaking engagements for Black clubs about violence in the South – an anti-lynching society formed
  • She got a letter from Frederick Douglass of thanks & high praise for her work on lynching reports & exposure
    • 1894 – 197 lynch mob deaths
    • She had to be meticulous in data & testimony collections – often using white newspapers for the sake of credibility
    • No movement on this from the press, politics or churches
    • She attempted to poison the South to the British market for cotton by highlighting lynching as a way of life in the South
    • British organizations sent documents back forced US papers to scramble to disavow these claims
      • Mob rule became a topic for public debate & lynchings all but disappeared
  • She used the Chicago World’s Fair as a chance to push for the highlighting Black contributions to America
    • She stayed in Chicago & wrote there
    • She focused on Black women’s role which upset Black Men’s groups because she was rocking the boat
    • She joined in the women’s suffrage movement
      • She got married but kept up her work just before the wedding & even afterwards
      • Had to balance her work & role as a mother – drew a lot of concern from Suffragette leaders
  • The Black organizations were The Accomodationist Blacks (led by Booker T Washington) v. the Radicals (led by DuBois, Trotter & Wells)
    • Radicals fought every form of racial discrimination
    • Accomodationists didn’t want to offend the White establishment because it was giving them support
    • Booker T Washington thought segregated would protect Blacks & generate jobs & economic self-reliance
      • Saw Wells as a trouble maker & too uncompromising
    • Wells was a founder of the NAACP
      • They adopted her platform but forced her out
  • She went back to focus on Black women in Chicago, establishing a settlement house in Chicago for new arrivals from the South
    • She got involved in state & local politics
    • Supported Black involvement in WW1
      • 1917 – 24th Infantry of Black soldiers in Houston, TX
        • 100 soldiers took up arms & marched through the city
        • She supported them & was told to stop talking about the case because it was tantamount to treason
  • 1919 – Arkansas Race Riot brought her back to the South for the first time in 30 years
    • When Black cotton farmers tried to unionize against being forced to sell at low prices
    • Whites fired at them at a organizational meeting. Blacks fought back
      • 5 whites dead & hundred of blacks dead
      • 12 black men were sentenced to death
    • She visited the men in prison & learned that they’d been beaten, electrically shocked to force their false confession
    • She went back home & wrote about the case at length
      • Eventually the men were released
  • She wrote an autobiography explaining what she’d done & why she’d done it

Author: knowit68

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