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Remembering Ida B. Wells

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dont be scaredby Sikivu Hutchinson

Women’s History Month cannot be allowed to pass without recognition of Ida B. Wells, an indefatigable opponent of American lynch law, pioneering Black journalist, and one of the founding mothers of the modern civil rights movement. Wells was “perhaps the only nursing mother to travel nationwide to give political addresses.” Her progressive credentials shine through the generations since her death in 1931. “As an early critic of western gunboat diplomacy she would have seen a clear connection between the U.S. government’s interventionist policies and its imperial relationship with over-incarcerated black communities.”

Remembering Ida B. Wells
by Sikivu Hutchinson

“Wells was perhaps the first journalist to speak out on the racist and sexist implications of lynching.”

In their landmark 1982 anthology on black feminism, Gloria Hull, Barbara Smith and Patricia Bell Scott proclaimed that “all the women are white, all the blacks are men, but some of us are brave.” Perhaps no pioneering activist more fervently embodied the spirit of this sentiment than Ida B. Wells. A giant of the independent black press and early media literacy educator, Wells’ leadership and uncompromising vision continue to reverberate for black women. As we recognize International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month we can look to her life for lessons and inspiration; not only regarding her activism but on how she negotiated the double burden. In the era before daycare and leave time, Wells, like scores of other black women before her, was a caregiver navigating the divide between her domestic responsibilities and her life’s work as the greatest media watchdog of her time.

Accused of not knowing her place because she challenged the vacuum in male leadership around lynching, Wells struggled for recognition and compensation for her work. The constant juggling of her roles as writer, activist, orator and mother loomed large in both her public and private stance on women’s rights. Wells once boasted that she was perhaps the only nursing mother to travel nationwide to give political addresses. After the birth of her second child she announced that she was retiring from public activism to devote all her energies to motherhood, only to come blazing back onto the national stage three months later to protest the lynching of a black postmaster and his family.

“Wells once boasted that she was perhaps the only nursing mother to travel nationwide to give political addresses.”

In her fearless defense of lynching victims and African Americans’ right to due process, Wells often bucked the backward conventional wisdom of the era. When she began her campaign against lynching in the late 19th century there wasn’t consensus among African Americans that lynching was worthy of a national social justice movement, nor was there agreement about the terroristic sexual politics that motivated white lynch mobs. Wells was perhaps the first journalist to speak out on the racist and sexist implications of lynching. In her editorials she consistently blasted the hypocrisy of white savagery against black men accused of raping white women and exposed the long history of black female sexual exploitation by white men. Catapulted into twenty first century America, Wells might not be surprised at the power that this legacy has had on contemporary media images of black femininity. She might not be surprised that reconciling black liberation struggle with feminism is still dicey. As an outspoken suffragist and defender of the black female image she would have choice words for the young woman who told me recently that it’s ok when she’s addressed as a bitch or a ho because “I know I’m not one.” As a Chicago organizer ever skeptical of black politicians, she might have initially celebrated the election of Barack Obama then used her bully pulpit to separate the rhetoric of post-racial inclusion from the reality of racial apartheid. And as an early critic of western gunboat diplomacy she would have seen a clear connection between the U.S. government’s interventionist policies and its imperial relationship with over-incarcerated black communities.

“Her relative obscurity parallels her conflicts with a black political establishment that deemed her too radical for her gender.”

Despite her challenges to the American criminal justice system, her long record of publication at home and abroad, and her influence on Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois (both of whom were ambivalent if not threatened by her single-mindedness), Wells’ legacy remains undervalued. Eclipsed by the cult of charismatic masculinity that privileged the contributions of male leaders like Douglas and DuBois, her relative obscurity parallels her conflicts with a black political establishment that deemed her too radical for her gender. Remarking that “the people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press,” Wells remains a beacon of justice and a testament to the radical power of black feminist media literacy.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and a commentator for KPFK 90.7 FM.

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The modern society departs

The modern society departs from a stereotype the woman - the house - a life, career is put forward on the first positions and for a "weak" floor, requirements of women vary: they wish to learn constantly something new, to communicate with interesting people, to worry new feelings, to transfer the thoughts on a paper, and the most important thing - there is a desire to be heard. And such unique possibility is given by a trade of the journalist.
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The modern press of the

The modern press of the beginning of the third millenium is characterised by the considerable typological changes caused first of all by orientation to a concrete reader's audience and aspiration to satisfy requirement of members of a society for the information. Not casually modern printing market is presented by various types of editions, the special place among which is occupied with a female press.
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In new economic conditions journalism principles as that are actively reinterpreted. Other circumstances of a life give rise essentially to other approaches of development of mass media. Updating is observed practically at all levels of ability to live of mass-media. Transition to democracy and to the market has essentially changed structure, features of functioning and professional standards of journalistic activity.
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As the journalism is one of civilisation and culture elements, it is essential enough influencing on them, it is interesting to track, as the role of women in this trade varies. In researches of journalists which many years are spent, found out, that percent of women - journalists, steadily grows.
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Allow to continue the list of

Allow to continue the list of great women:
Indira Gandi
Angela Devis
Eva Peron
Margaret Tetcher
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women do things

Sit around and lament your state or get up and change your fate?
Harriet Tubman
Sojourner Truth
Fannie Lou Hamer
Shirley Chisholm
 
Who will be tomorrow's role models?
Cynthia McKinney
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Great Post

Great Women's History Month post. Ida B Wells was certainly a true visionary and fighter for human rights. Hopefully caring women's history or their issues won't be corraled into one month at BAR, though. I would love to see more posts focused on patriarchy and how it affects Black women in America and abroad.

women often disappear from history

Thanks.  Women too often disappear from history.  Not Ida B. Wells.
The best history of women is written by women.  I was pleased to know
about the nursing-traveling mother part of her career.  PS I wonder if WBAI
can also get your commentaries.



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