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Ida B Wells-Barnett Anti-Lynching

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Ida Wells was born in the 1860s in Holly Springs, Mississippi, at the second year of The Civil War. Her parents were all slaves and therefore, she had to dedicate her whole life to promote social equality. It was from her parents that she developed her curiosity in social politics and devoted herself in achieving those goals. Her career as a writer was sparked by one incident that took place one afternoon while on a train back to her job, when she was asked by the conductor to vacate her seat in the ladies’ car to the front of the train in the smoking car (McMurry, 1998). She resisted and the conductor forcefully attempted to remove her from the seat but all in vain until three other men had intervened to get her out of the seat. She alighted at the next stop to the applause of the white women aboard the train. Back to Memphis she hired a lawyer and brought a legal suit against the rail company, the court verdict was reached in her favor and was awarded $500 damage. The company appealed and the decision was reversed where she was ordered to pay court costs. At that time, it was a case of its kind in the South (Feimster and Nicole, 2000). Excited by her victorious work, she was eager to share the story with others who had similar grievances and it was then that she put it in writing.

In the 1890s Ida B. Wells, a professional media scientist, media opinion shaper, and the then black community leader in the USA, wrote some innovative pamphlets, reporting and analyzing the United States intellectual history. People described her as a crusader and defender for integrity and democracy. Her introductory findings on the social dynamics following the scenarios of rape have to date stood the test of time in a period more of than a century. She articulated her complains in a diary of neglect ‘my anti lynch contribution’. These were some of the earliest black history textbooks written to pressure the scholars of the time.

The crisis

Wells criticized racial prejudice and lynching during this era of strong anxiety about the bona fide personhood and belonging. This anxiety was more often expressed as in the idioms of racial prejudice and sexual struggles. To succeed in her launch of resistance to lynch, Wells had to attest to the lynch victims, the Afro American men, that they were people who deserved protection and worth of sympathy. She also needed at the same time to present herself as a middle class southern woman who was well-informed and of a mixed racial ancestry, so that people can view her as a true dispenser of truth and an agent who has the ability to command social and moral power. The context of sexism and racism in which she represented made her tasks not that easy.

She described lynching as an act of expressing conflicts over physical integrity, rights, social power and human dignity, thus the movement to end this practice was a also burdened and controversial. The anti lynching pamphlets written before the 1900 century combined statistical analysis on which the daily language of the social order turned on its effect for critical effects.

Wells first work, Southern Horrors, whose title was deliberately set to ridicule the southern ‘honors’ as ‘horrors’ described the southern society as a white man’s and the rights of free speech and fair treatment was unceremoniously denied to the Afro Americans who resided in the South. The article had to refute the justification of punishment to lynch the blacks on white rape. She revealed that according to sources, 30% of the recorded lunch cases involved rape. This became the cornerstone used by reformers and critics on all subsequent arguments. She further described the white southerners attribution of an inhuman nature directed to the black men as a hoax that hid a number of realities as inappropriate to the would-be southern white male protectors.

To begin with, the rape charges hindered the economic and political competition that escalated the racial hostility towards Afro-Americans after the Reconstruction Era. Secondly, it hid the consensual and at times the illegal contacts between white women and black men that happened in the past and some in the present. Third, by this report of rape as an innate inclination of the black men, the white men institutionalized sexual domination over black women (in addition to long felt mistreatment patterns including persecutions that resulted from slavery and the aftermath) was eclipsed by sensitization and petition to nature.

Wells works of the 1890s had a tendency to accent white women’s agency and complexity in the lynch-for–rape scenario, such as; their betrayal towards the black men, their quiet approval of punishment and their live participation to mobs and it was the issue of the feminist bodies that she analyzed and focused on. She insisted that the so called black rapists were just the innocent victims who suffered both the lust mob’s blood and the white women’s sexual lust. This happened because the interracial marriages were not permitted by legal and social authorities, and thus the sexual contacts between the different races were policed strictly and the ones linking black women were ignored and both dynamics endangered blacks than the whites.

The anti lynching writings therefore enclosed a comprehensive view of the racialised sexual politics of the south; a justification of the black men as true men, a critique of white would-be protectors as just corrupt and exposure of white women as active participants to white supremacy in sexual politics together with re-centering of the black women’s experiences in the incidences of rape, sexualized racism and lynching. She documented unbiased suffering of attacks of lynching and rape on black women and girls. By so doing, she staged a claim of outraged black womanhood that was first articulated by the opponents of slavery though becoming unthinkable under the white supremacists ideology by time the nineteenth century came to an end. She also describes the black women rapes as a piece of black men lynch.

 The murder cases on the black men made her to start an investigative journalism by looking clearly on the charges given to these counts of murders. She spoke on this issue at diverse black women’s clubs and managed to raise more than $500 to complete her research and make publication. Her investigation revealed that the blacks were lynched for such reasons like failure to pay debts, refusal to pave way to the whites, economically competing with the white men or being drunk in open places.

She made a suggestion in her article, that unlike the common allegations that the white women were sexually at threat of being attacked by the black men; their sexual contacts were greatly an issue of consensus. And at one time while she was away in Philadelphia a mob of whites destroyed her ‘Free Speech’ office to react on her controversial article some months after her close associate was lynched. She later addressed an meeting in New York City that was attended by many leading African-American women. She went to exile in Memphis for fear of her life but persisted to wage her anti-lynch campaign and to publish columns that were meant to attack the Southern injustice (Duster, 1970). She organized a black boycott in 1893 in Chicago, for the failure of the World Columbian Exposition to collaborate with the black community in the demonstration representing African American lives. 

She accented race to make through the cases of unfairness in power across the racial line. At the time, she ignored the idea of ‘race’ itself, mocking the notion of fixed racial boundaries and the supposed black and white that accompanied it. It had gone to an extent that the white men sometimes committed crimes with their faces blackened so as to divert the crime attention to the black men. She exposed how taken for granted was the term ‘race ‘ and ‘rape’ saying they were socially constructed and politically deployed. By doing so, she challenged the readers to examine the assumption that held their personal identity and the sense of their social order. To many, it was quite a challenge as only few joined and many resisted pointing this violence.

Her analysis of the New Orleans, East St Louis and Arkansas riots made the critiques of criminal justice, law enforcement and the court system to take over the work of black subordination more seriously in the twentieth century. The Arkansas events she wrote about attended the way in which black women and men were caught up in the white supremacists and the way they fought back (Sterling, 1988).  Unlike the early anti-lynching campaigns which she only cited, she emphasized on the strategies for resistance.

The NAACP that was founded in 1909, adopted a legislative approach in the effort to end lynching and some few bills to address anti lynch were passed in the house of senate. Wells’ willingness to openly speak about sexuality, her deep dedication in religion, and her ideological perceptive of race in social and political life, became unbiased with trends on social reforms and the fight for civil rights. As the Progressive Era outspread, all professionals loaded with their documents were empowered to speak openly and fight against lynching and racism. In this era, scientific and legal credentials moved to center stage of planned reforms and with time renowned figures like Web Du Bois started to appear and looked on her past contribution to keep the struggle.

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