Ida Bell Wells is my grandmother. There was a kinship I felt with her when I first saw her face when I was 9 in Ms. Annie Green’s class. It was this classic photo, with this look of “Don’t come for me, ‘less send for you” spoke to me. At that point, I wanted to know everything about her. And I mean everything. It was because of her I wanted to go into journalism! And I thought she was a superhero!
She was brilliant, was a writer in the time where most most Black folk were murdered for trying to pursue education of any sort! Consider these fast facts about the dynamic force that is (and was) Ida Bell Wells:
-daughter of slaves–and she was born one!
-raised her sister after their parents died of Yellow Fever
-Went off on the principal of the school she was at who tried to talk to her crazy (a WHITE man in a position of authority AT THAT), and put her out of the school.
-she refused to give up her seat in a railroad car BEFORE Plessy v. Ferguson (May 1884, Plessy v. Ferguson was in 1896!).
-One of the founding 4 members of the NAACP
-Investigated lynchings IN THE CITIES THEY HAPPENED IN.
*-She sued the railroad this incident happened on and won a $500 settlement. The Tennessee Court overturned this decision. It was this incident that caused her to start writing.
She wrote for US, mane. She confronted racism, called out the bullshit that is perpetuated through traditional white feminism which lead to the illest thing she did to let these (white) suffragettes know she wasn’t the one. What do I mean? Peep this (thank you to The Atlantic for this piece):
“Seen through the lens of Wells’s life, the history is sobering: When Wells traveled to Washington, D.C., to march with the Illinois delegation in the suffrage parade of 1913, the group’s leaders asked her to move to the back of the parade with the other black women. (She ignored these instructions and took her place with the white marchers anyway, Giddings writes.) In an earlier incident, when Wells was heckled during a lecture in Rochester, New York, NAWSA President Susan B. Anthony leapt up from the audience in defense of Wells, declaring that African Americans faced racism in the North as well as the South—only to illustrate her own point when she confided to Wells that she’d excluded black people from joining her organization or even speaking at its events for fear of alienating southern white women from the cause. According to Giddings, Anthony rationalized that issues of racial inequality could be better addressed once white women had the vote, the ends of her strategy thus justifying the means. (Wells, who on most points admired Anthony, respectfully disagreed.)”
My feeling has always been God knew the fight Black women writers would have and was gracious enough to give us Ida Bell Wells Barnett. We needed her. We still need her. And I am grateful I can put her name in any search engine on any part of the world and she is accessible. So, to have her awarded the Pulitzer Prize almost 90 years after her passing? I don’t know how to feel about this.
As a writer, I am happy! I am glad she has gotten the recognition she deserves. The part of me that is woman and Black is like, “Posthumously?! Really bih?!” Why do I feel that way? This nation loves to honor ‘acceptable’ Black folk, and ignore the living Black folk doing the same work! I am mad at this, fam! I am upset because for all her work, for all her power, for all her talent and insistence on justice, the powers that be decide to award her almost a century of her being in the ground! I feel like this is the nation spitting on her grave, walking over it, and then planting flowers!
But, what do I know? I’m just a Black woman writer–who subscribes to the gospel according to Ida B: “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” Sometimes the best way to free yourself, and other people as Toni Morrison says, is to get a pen.
God and Ida gave me one. My job is to keep giving it to other people. With smooth ink, and no chaser.
[Image from TheGroit.com]