Mary Garrity Restored by Adam Cuerden, Mary Garrity – Ida B. Wells-Barnett – Google Art Project – restoration crop, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
Ida B. Wells: A Force to be Reckoned With
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” “quote by Wells
And He Restoreth My Soul Project honors one of the country’s greatest Black-American journalists and editors, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Wells spent her career living and working to expose the horrors of lynching and other forms of racist violence during the Jim Crow era in the South.
I fell in love with Ida B. Wells because of her demonstrated strength, boldness, courage, intellect, and her ability to write and speak with conviction and persuasion. Ida B. Wells was a great pioneer who didn’t hesitate to answer her calling, a deep calling within her heart for her fellow Black-American men, women, and children who were terrorized by lynching.
What Ida B. Wells understood
Ida understood that the criminalization of black people was the intent of society at large. The lynching was an excuse to cover the failures and economic competition.
Ida Wells stands her ground
From New York, she wrote her famous editorial, “The Truth About Lynching.” This was the first study of lynching published during the New York Age. Standing her ground, she would become internationally known as she fought a battle and crusaded against lynching. Who knew she would travel throughout the United States and to Britain more than once for a cause that America had all but turned a deaf ear? Her crusade included initiating one of the first public hearings to address both racial and sexual violence. Wells also sought to protect black women against rape by white men. Wells argued that the portrayal of black men as rapists put them “beyond the pale of human sympathy.” She suggested that such a focus concealed the rape of black women, and it gave cover to the whites’ violent efforts to rob African-Americans of their rights.
The journalist Ida B. Wells protested the lynching in an editorial for The Gate City Press, a black newspaper in Kansas City, Mo. Eliza Woods “was taken from the county jail and stripped naked and hung up in the courthouse yard and her body riddled with bullets and left exposed to view,” Wells later wrote in her diary. “Oh, my God! Can such things be and no justice for it?”
A recall of the lynching of Eliza Woods
Eliza Woods was an African-American woman who was lynched on 19 August 1886 in Jackson, Tennessee, after being accused of poisoning and killing her employer, Jessie Woolen. Woods had been Woolen’s cook. When it was found that Woolen’s stomach contained arsenic and that Woods had a box of rat poison at home, it was concluded that she was responsible for the death. A crowd of 1,000 was reportedly present when Woods was dragged from the jail and hanged naked in front of the courthouse. Bullets were then shot into her body. This lynching was notable both for the gender of the victim and the biracial participation of the crowd. Three years later, in 1889, Woolen’s husband confessed that he had killed his wife. (4)
The case of Eliza Woods was among the first that Ida B. Wells (1862–1931) wrote about before becoming a prominent anti-lynching campaigner.
HISTORICAL INSERT: Lynch mobs murdered at least 130 black women from 1880 to 1930. “This violence against black women has long been ignored or forgotten. Not anymore. Eliza Woods’s name appears on one of the 800 weathered steel columns hanging from the ceiling of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice located in Montgomery, Ala. National Memorial for Peace and Justice.” (5)
As late as 1930, Ida B. Wells-Barnett ran for the Illinois State legislature, which made her one of the first black women to run for public office in the United States. A year later, she passed away, after a lifetime of crusading for justice. (2)
Recently documented lynching
I’m unable to end this article without a heart filled with mixed emotion. I can’t imagine what Ida B. Wells would feel or say today if she knew lynching was still alive in 1981.
Lynching as recent as 1981:
“The lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama in 1981 was one of the last lynchings in the United States. Several Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members beat and killed Michael Donald, a young African-American man, and hung his body from a tree. One perpetrator, Henry Hays, was sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair in 1997, while another, James Knowles, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty and testifying against Hays. A third man was convicted as an accomplice, and a fourth indicted but he died before his case could be completed at trial.
The Beaulah Mae Donald civil suit bankrupted the largest Ku Klux Klan faction in America, establishing an “agency theory” precedent used successfully in future lawsuits against hate groups. 1981 Mobile, AL. Beaulah Mae Donald was awarded $7,000,000.” (6)
Today, lynching shows up in different methods. It has become the rope around the necks of culture regardless of our race.
When will it STOP?
1 By Dr. Feimster is an associate professor of African-American studies and American studies at Yale.
L. D. Baker Professor and Author
Paula Giddings, Author
4 Eliza Woods was an African-American woman who was lynched on 19 August 1886 in Jackson, Tennessee,
^ https://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30A1FFC3A5410738DDDA90A94D0405B8684F0D3, The New York Times, 20 August 1886.
^ Crystal Feimster. Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching. Harvard University Press, 2009, https://books.google.com/books?id=4TjS6-9T0kYC&pg=PA158.
^ Paula J. Giddings. Ida: A Sword Among Lions. Harper Collins, 2009, https://books.google.com/books?id=OFRGjgtNoZ4C&pg=PA117, https://books.google.com/books?id=OFRGjgtNoZ4C&pg=PA152.
^ Ida B. Wells-Barnett. The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells. Beacon Press, 1995, https://books.google.com/books?id=PjqS0NaN-4gC&pg=PA102.
Ida B Wells: A Passion For Justice
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
C-SPAN Cities Tour – Mobile: Donald v. United Klans of America
The lynching of Eliza Woods for killing her employer Mrs. Woolen
Lynching in America Report
The Equal Justice Initiative
NOTE: Minor changes may have been made due to editorial suggestions; such as (passive voice to active voice)
My thanks and gratitude to Tiffany Clark for her editing support with this article.
Permission to use this article should be sent to Darlene J. Harris
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