Ida B. Wells was among the first to promote #BlackLivesMatter, though the hashtag didn’t exist when she was alive.
I knew of Ms. Ida B. Wells, an activist and self-taught journalist, long before I actually understood what journalism was and how it worked.
My godmother, a playwright, wrote and directed a production back in the 90s based on The Great Blacks in Wax Museum and Ms. Wells was one of the “wax figures” which came to life and delivered a powerful monologue.
My interest in the freedom fighter – who didn’t complete High School but went on to become a teacher – was renewed in January of 2013 when I attended a panel discussion in Center City Philadelphia and listened to Ms. Mia Bay, author of the Book “To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells,” enumerate Ms. Wells’ achievements.
Ms. Bay, quite the expert on Ms. Wells, acknowledged the business acumen of her subject matter, noting that she had purchased interest in the newspaper she was writing for and risen to the middle class.
But, despite the great business deals which resulted in a comfortable lifestyle for the former slave who was born in 1862, what inspired me the most were the circumstances that propelled Ms. Wells into the Fourth Estate.
“The incident that led her to becoming a writer was when she was forcibly hauled off a railroad car during the beginning of segregation,” said Ms. Bay, at the now closed Robin’s Book and Mooonstone Art Center near 13th & Walnut Street.
Though credit is attributed to Ms. Rosa Parks for standing her ground in 1955 and refusing to give up her seat, Ms. Wells in 1884 did the same thing; only difference is she bit the hand of the man who was attempting to eject her.
Ms. Wells became a journalist because of the injustices she had been witnessing. She wrote often about the train car incidents, but once lynching became the mainstream thing to do among racists, Ms. Wells trained her pen to speak out against those acts and proclaim, in essence, that Black lives matter.
Today, Ms. Wells, considered a founder of the NAACP, would have been 153 years old and to celebrate, Google posted a Google Doodle in her likeness.
But to truly honor Ms. Ida B. Wells’ legacy, what we need to do is move beyond the cute symbolism and, like she did, tell the truth freely about the injustices in the world and work tirelessly on the ground to mitigate them.
To truly honor Ms. Ida B. Wells, black journalists and news makers in particular should stop placating mainstream White audiences when writing about race and instead speak truth to power in way that causes them to be uncomfortable and self-reflect.
To truly honor Ms. Ida B. Wells, we should all interrupt and speak against injustice whenever we see it.
I celebrate Ms. Ida B. Wells today and every day for having the gravitas to tell the truth freely in the face of great danger and you should, too.
*Tune into 900amWURD or 900amWURD.com every Friday evening during the 6 o’clock hour to hear me relive #TheWeekThatWas*
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™