Sunday, January 7, 2018

Tribute to Ida B. Wells and the power of the pen

  Born a black woman in rural Mississippi, just before the Emancipation Proclamation, she wasn’t supposed to make an impact on the world. But, she did. With her parents dying at age 16 of yellow fever, it was unlikely she would become nationally known and even internationally renowned. But, she became a household name even across the Atlantic Ocean in Great Britain where she lectured.

  Sadly, many today don’t even know her name. The great A. Leon Higginbotham called her a progenitor of Rosa Parks because she challenged a railway segregation law all the way up to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

  In this day and age, when the press comes under attack, we should celebrate her courageous brand of journalism. She recognized the value of a free press, as the newspaper she wrote for, edited, and co-owned was called The Memphis Free Speech. She was exiled from the South because she exposed awful lynchings in Memphis and elsewhere.

  Her name was Ida B. Wells and she was a self-described “crusader for justice.” She became the nation’s foremost opponent against lynching. She railed against the murderous practice as “our national crime,” exposing the incongruity with this barbarous practice and the ideal of America as a Christian nation.

  Journalists in her era were sometimes called muckrakers and she certainly raked muck upon those she viewed as complicit in corrupt practices. She urged other journalists to take up the cause. “If indeed ‘the pen is mightier than the sword,’ the time has come as never before that the wielders of the pen belonging to the race which is so tortured and outraged, should take serious thought and purposeful action,” she wrote.

  She campaigned tirelessly against lynching but also became involved in other causes. She advocated against racial segregation, poor educational opportunities for African-American children, and suffrage rights for women.

  She truly was a “crusader for justice.”

  About the author: David L. Hudson, Jr. is the author of Let the Students Speak: A History of the Fight for Freedom of Expression in American Schools and Teen Legal Rights (3rd Edition).

  This article was published by the Newseum Institute.

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