If the lord is willing and the creek don’t rise as the elders used to say, I will be 52 years old in November and what an amazing journey it has been. I have experienced so many trials and tribulations during my time on this planet. From childhood sexual abuse, domestic abuse, poverty, loss of family and friends, I have been through it all and not only managed to survive but thrive in a society that wasn’t created for women who look like me.
It has not been an easy ride at all but I am here and grateful because too many people I loved didn’t have the privilege of growing older. The two little girls I used to play with as child who died in a fire. My brother who died on his 34th birthday. My cousin who died at the age of 46. My aunts who died at 37 and 48. My three sister-friends who died at the ages of 45 and 48. So many others in the world that I never knew but who were also loved and missed dearly by those who loved them.
However, what is so weird to me is how people in this culture don’t respect the elders and look at them with disdain and contempt. Make fun of them because they are still alive. Laugh at their wrinkles and gray hairs. Their sagging skin. Signs of living that should be considered a badge of honor instead of a curse.
It’s like the very act of getting older is something to be ashamed of and people get a thrill out of shaming the elders. As if their asses aren’t going to get older one day if they are that lucky and blessed. I guess these types of people are taking a magical fairy dust that is going to keep them from turning 40. Hmm.
This culture makes it seems like getting older is a bad thing when all it means is that you survived and have a story to tell. But so often, the voices of the elders, particularly those of the crones are shouted down and silenced. Why? I think it is because knowledge is power and gaining knowledge is a part of the aging process although some older folks are still chasing their youth and their brains have stagnated unfortunately. But it’s a lot of elders who have valuable information and y’all better listen.
Like older women. We have a ton of experience when it comes to relationships and men but often when a crone attempts to give advice to a younger woman concerning a man, for the most part, she is ignored, screamed at, and told that she is just jealous because her ass is old. As if older women in this current culture have anything to be jealous of. I am in these social media streets and see clearly what is going on in the dating field. A bunch of entitled, whining ass men, both old and young and parched, silly ass women looking for male validation. I ain’t jealous of shit boos.
In May of this year, I became a grandmother again to an absolutely beautiful brown baby boy. My widdle widdle brown sugar booga man. I’m so grateful that I have lived long to see three generations descend from my lineage and I am proud as fuck. And I hope to live long enough to see more grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There is nothing wrong with getting older because as I stated earlier, that means you survived and have a story to tell. So stop being ashamed for getting older and start cussing folks out who say something slick about your age. Fuck them and keep living.
I’ve always been of the belief that music is food for the soul. Music nurtures your spirit, soothes your mind when you are feeling low, makes your heart sing with joy, and shake your ass with glee. But just like processed foods are not good for your body, trash music is not good for your emotional energy.
The Black collective is a hot mess for a variety of reasons and although some will not agree with me, I believe that music is playing a huge part in its continued dysfunction. When a steady stream of garbage music is marketed to the masses, it’s eventually going to affect the psyches of people who aren’t able to fight off the madness and as a result, so many people are miserable as fuck.
It makes me sad that no love music is coming from the current Black collective of musicians. Just anger, pain, and more pain. I know that life isn’t a fairytale but damn. And let’s not talk about the lack of singers who sang from the bottom of their hearts and the pits of their souls. Voices that could bring you to tears and brought chills to your spine. Now it’s a bunch of whining voices belonging to singers who all look alike. No individuality at all.
No those days are gone and the Black collective is suffering because of it. Music historically has been a part of our history since we brought here as chattel. Music keep us sane while we were toiling in the cotton, sugar cane, tobacco plantations of the South.
We sang in the Black church which used to be the finishing school for Black musicians. Singers from Aretha Franklin to Whitney can all trace their careers to the Black church. Religion has major issues but no one can deny that the Black church throughout history has played a major role in the music industry and now since Black folks have turned away from the church, the industry is suffering.
So who is the blame for this lack when it comes to Black music? Us. We sold out our culture for trinkets and now we have a major dearth when it comes to music. So the madness will continue.
I majored in sociology in college because it made sense after reading the first paragraph of the textbook I had been assigned. I had been a sociologist my entire life but didn’t know it.
When I was a little girl, I used to go to work with my mother during summer vacations and we would take public transportation. I always noticed that everyone would go through the same exact turnstile when we got to the train station, although it would be several that would be empty. That never made any sense to me because why stand in line when it was another turnstile available? Ugh humans but despite of their flaws, humanity is utterly fascinating to me.
Due to sociology, the social media, and aging, unfortunately I’m noticing that people are pathologically unhappy and it makes me sad. Because life is so short and it’s precious. Everyday you wake up is a blessing and a new opportunity to start over again. Who wants to wake up mad and miserable all the time? Not me.
For this new year, I’m hoping that everyone claims their right to happiness and joy. I would have thought that living through a pandemic would have awakened some people but it hasn’t. Be happy and love the people in your life. Love them with all your heart and soul. Because at times, life can be rough as hell and you never know when the grim reaper will be knocking on your door. Reclaim your life from misery and have a grand old life.
As I get older, I’m finding that my personal brand of feminism is getting more radical. Now I’m not talking about kill all the men or any nonsense like that, but as I age, I just don’t give a fuck about the opinions of men anymore. Regardless of race, regardless of their socioeconomic status in life. Dirt poor or filthy rich, if you are a man, your opinions of womanhood don’t mean a heap of merde (French for shit) to me.
I can’t speak for all women collectively but for me, getting older has been a blessing because I did some foolish things as a younger woman and now my mind is clear as freshly cleaned glass. When I look back, I just shake my head and thank the ancestors that I’m still alive to tell my tale. The most foolish thing I did as a young woman was live with two men (not at the same time☠️) and it’s two of my biggest regrets as a woman. No woman should live with a man that she’s not married to because it’s not worth it. Why should a young woman waste her youth, energy and resources cleaning, cooking, and sexing a man who is not her husband? It doesn’t make any sense and I’m not even a big proponent of marriage these days but shacking is an exercise in futility. He’s getting the best without having to do anything. Marriage is a legally binding contact that brings certain privileges for both parties. Particularly for women when it comes to children.
But marriage is still very important for a large portion of women and that is why they be jumping through hoops of fire, trying to prove their worthiness to men who in some cases, aren’t worth two dead flies. Moving in with men that they barely know, auditioning to be wives. Just foolishness all the way around.
If I ran society, I would encourage women to concentrate on themselves and stop listening to the voices of men. Tap into their femininity and I’m not talking about this soft and meek shit thats being sold to the parched masses by shysters. I’m talking about that Kali femininity. Kali is an Indian goddess who’s a bad chick. She’s considered the goddess of death in some circles and others, the epitome of womanhood. She’s a wild woman and women of today need to aspire to that wildness. This is a patriarchal society that we live in and in order to survive as a woman, you have to be strong and cunning or you will become prey for these wolves. So stop serving yourselves up on a silver platter to men who look like roadkill y’all.
Today the world was shocked and saddened by the death of actress Betty White who was loved by all. She was an integral part of my childhood experience because I’m a total television junkie and I literally grew up watching her. Her career spanned over 70 years and she was the living definition of The Crone.
I watched her on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mama’s Family, and my favorite comedy of all time, The Golden Girls. The episode when Rose and the crew went on a game show and competed against each other was a study in comic genius.
She was funny, talented, and so much more. When I learned of her passing, I broke down and cried like a baby. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t cry on the last day of year because I had cried so many tears this year but I couldn’t help myself. So many people from my childhood have crossed over from relatives to celebrities that I loved and it’s been a bitter pill to swallow. No one told me that the worst aspect of aging is losing people because it forces you to think about your own mortality.
So rest easy Miss Betty. You gave joy to millions of people from one end of the world to the other and you will be missed. Knowing that you really didn’t blow up until you were a Crone gives me hope for the future. You were loved and revered Tee Tee Betty.
I’ve loved the musical artist and cultural icon Madonna from the moment she burst upon the scene. It was in 1983 and her song “Holiday” was being played on radio stations everywhere. On January 14, she made her national debut on American Bandstand, a staple in households across the country and she was so cool to me. I had never seen a female singer who dressed like her. And she was confident. Bold. With balls of brass.
And after that, she was everywhere. Literally. I followed her career which was easy because she was in the magazines and tabloids on a weekly basis. When she married the actor Sean Penn, the press went crazy and followed them everywhere. And she didn’t mind because she learned how to manipulate the press in such a slick manner, that they were too stupid to realize it.
During those days, all she had to do was wipe her ass and the media would bug out and accuse her of breaking down the morality of the entire world. The Catholic Church couldn’t stand her, especially in 1989 after she released the video for her song “Like a Prayer” and had the Black actor Leon portraying the role of Black Jesus. They lost their entire minds and showed their asses. Their constant bewailing led to Pepsi canceling an endorsement deal that they had with her but Madonna being Madonna didn’t lose a beat. She kept on rising.
She made several movies, won many awards and is currently the best selling female music artist of all time with 300 million albums sold all over the world. She’s also worth $850 million dollars but those statistics isn’t why Madonna is my boo.
It’s because she’s always lived her life according to her standards and needs. She’s never given a fuck about the opinions of others and I admire women who live their lives on their own terms. It’s hard being a woman in a patriarchal society in which the behavior of women is heavily regulated and most women fall in line for fear of offending the status quo. Not she. She thumbed her nose at these antiquated ideas about womanhood and look her now. Damn near a billionaire. She’s my kind of broad.
This month two exes who are currently married called me and asked me why I am still single. One was even bold enough to say that I’m not getting any younger so I need to be concentrating on finding a fella. If men don’t have anything else, they have more balls than a brass ass monkey.
One of the things that I have noticed about men is that they are eternally befuddled with the idea that a woman can be single and actually happy. I guess they are so used to the female friends in their lives constantly bewailing about being single that they believe that all single women are a miserable lot and then they come across me and are shellshocked. But let me continue my tale.
Now why these happily married men (so they claim) are worrying about me and my relationship status I will never know but it’s three specific reasons why I am a currently single woman. The reasons are relatively simple but at the same time, complex. Let me explain.
Number one: it’s easy to be single in 2021 considering the state of gender relations in this culture. The men I’ve come across are so dang angry and filled with bile and unrealistic expectations that’s it’s a turnoff. I’ve seen men with missing, yellowing teeth who think they are entitled to the most beautiful woman in the world. And in addition to being highly unattractive, they have the audacity to have rigid gender standards for women.
In their world, women are only good for fucking, cleaning, cooking, and more fucking. I just want to know how do these men have the nerve to be both homely and entitled at the same time. And on top of everything, they expect women to jump through hoops of fire for their affections and I’m not doing shit. We live in a patriarchy and I thought men were the hunters.
What woman in her right mind wants to be bothered with men who have that mentality? Not I. Unlike many women, I’m not parched for male companionship or validation. My bed will never be that lonely.
Number two: I have a disability and any man that I decide to be involved with needs to be able to deal with that fact. I’m an epileptic and as long as I take my medication, I’m seizure free and that’s a beautiful thing. But suppose I do have a seizure? How is he going to react? Is he going to jump into action or crumble? I need a strong man, not a wimp. You can die from a seizure and I need a fella who can help me, not be a hinderance to my health.
And lastly, at this stage in my life, I don’t want to be bothered. I’m not trying to male bash but many men are feminine energy vampires and they will drain a foolish woman dry. And I’m not foolish. So many women are walking around looking like life is whupping their asses and it’s because of the men in their lives. I look pretty good for an old broad, especially when I put on my concealer and eyebrow pencil. And I’m going to continue to stay looking fly and living stress free. But one day, I hope to find a nice fella. A man who makes my soul sing and my body tingle. A man filled with a passion to match my own passion for life. And who read books on a regular basis. Until then however, I’m single and chilling. Happily content.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been both terrified and fascinated by the specter of death. I became obsessed with death after spending the summer with my grandmother in 1980. She had moved to Wichita, Kansas to reside with her daughter, Aunt Annabel, and we spent hot summer days together with her telling me tales from her youth.
She was a Southern Baptist and believed that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was going to happen in the year 2000. So I analyzed the situation, well as much as a nine year old girl can analyze and decided that it would be cool for everyone to die together at one time. Although I would only be 30 at the time, at least I would die in the company of my family and friends. The thoughts that children have.
In the years that have passed, I’ve learned a lot about death unfortunately. I’ve lost so many friends and family in the past five years that it’s surreal. Especially the deaths of my original family, the family I was born into. My brother Randy died in 1994, my mother Gertrude in 2006, and Larry in 2020. My father wasn’t a part of my life so it was just myself, my brothers, and my mother. Now it’s just me and it’s been one of the most difficult journeys I’ve taken. Although I have children, a grandson and a new grandchild due in the spring, and a ton of cousins and friends who love me, I still feel so alone at times. I’ve come to the realization that this feeling of loneliness and despair will never go away but it will always be a lingering bitterness.
Now I’m obsessed with dying these days. Worried about leaving my children motherless. Worried about what would happen to them if I should die. Wondering who’s going to love my babies like I do. My mother had three children and I’m the only one who is left. What kind of shit is that? Why am I still here? And how does it feel to be dead. Is there really an afterlife and a place where souls go when their journey on Earth is over? Will I see my dead loved ones again? Totally morbid as fuck and unhealthy but it is what it is.
I didn’t discover bell hooks until I went to college in 2002. I majored in sociology and minored in history. Took two Women and Gender courses and it was then I was introduced to her works. And my life changed.
Her writings made me think deeply and I learned to fight for myself as a Black woman living in a white patriarchal society that despises all women but has placed the Black woman on a special rung in hell. Learned to fight for my dignity and autonomy in system that wasn’t set up for my advancement but my demise.
And as I’m getting older, due to her works, I have learned to have grace for others who weren’t as fortunate as me to have access to her writings and the writings of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Assata Shakur and others. Black writers who reveled in their Blackness and wasn’t afraid to show it. Ignorance is cultivated in American culture these days so some people are doomed and all you can do is pity them and move on.
So Rest in Power bell hooks. Although you are no longer here in form, your works will continue to educate and transform, encouraging folks to improve their lives and elevate their minds. Folks like me.
My first introduction to Ida B. Wells-Barnett was during Black History Month when I was in grade school. Other than that, her history was alien to me as someone from Mars. Of course her name was familiar to me; there used to be a housing project on 39th and King Drive Boulevard that was named after her and although I recognized her name, I really did not know anything about her history or achievements until I read a book by Tonya Bolden entitled, African-American Women: 150 Crusader, Creators, and Uplifters. Only then, did I find out about the true history of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and what her accomplishments meant, not only for Blacks in this county but for anyone has been oppressed and marginalized in American society.
Her story gnawed at me. A woman born in slavery, she would grow up to become one of the great pioneer activists of the Civil Rights movement. She was a precursor of Rosa Parks, and was a feminist, newspaper editor and publisher, investigative journalist, co-founder of the NAACP, political candidate, mother, wife, and the single most powerful leader in the anti-lynching campaign in America.
She made major contributions to the field of sociology although her role was later obscured and marginalized. Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998) further commented on her contributions as well as the contributions made by another African-American woman sociologist, Anna Julia Cooper: “Cooper and Wells-Barnett were not lone voices, but part of an enormous, segregated tradition of social analysis by African-Americans that included a rich discourse by African American women. Cooper and Wells-Barnett created a social theory morally and passionately centered in a standard of justice derived from Judeo-Christian religion and American demographic and republic claims. This theory of the intersection of race, class, and gender added a vital strand to the feminist tradition of sociology” (pp.171-172).
She was dynamic, controversial, temperamental, and uncompromising. She stood up for what she believed in, even at her own expense. However, even with all of her achievements, she is rarely mentioned in the history textbooks. For this reason, this is a love story dedicated to the life and achievements of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, particularly her crusades against the anti-lynching of Black folks during this particular era in time.
In the latter part of nineteenth century, sociological theories from Ida B. Wells-Barnett were groundbreaking. She was born on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi and she was to two freed slaves. Her mother, Lizzie Warrenton, was a cook; and her father, James, was a carpenter and they believed that an education was very important. After the Civil War ended, they enrolled their children in Rust College, the local school set up by the Freedmen’s Aid Society (Hine 1993). Founded in 1866, the Society established schools and colleges for recently freed slaves in the South, and it was at Rust College where Miss Ida learned to read and write.
When she turned sixteen, her life changed forever. Both of her parents and her infant brother died during a yellow fever epidemic, and Ida was left to care for her remaining five siblings. She began teaching at a rural school for $25 a month and, a year later, took a position in Memphis, Tennessee in the city’s segregated black schools. Upon arriving in Memphis, she learned that teaching salaries were higher than Mississippi, and she learned that even though there was a stronger demand for literate individuals to teach, there was a stronger need for qualified ones. According to Salley (1993), because she needed qualifications in order to teach, she enrolled into Fisk University and gained her qualification in under a year.
While returning to Memphis from a teaching convention in New York, she was met with racial provocation for the first time while traveling by railway. Ida was asked by the conductor to move to the segregated car, even though she had paid for a ticket in the ladies coach car. She refused to leave, and bit the conductor’s hand as he forcibly pushed her from the railway car. She sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, and was awarded $500 by a local court. Even though she won the case, the headlines read, “DARKY DAMSEL GETS DAMAGES,” and the decision was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court and was reversed (Bolden, 1996). She was ordered to pay court frees in the amount of $200. This incident infuriated Ida and spurred her to investigate and report other incidents of racism.
Outraged by the inequality of Black and White schools in Memphis and the unfairness of Jim Crow segregation, Ida became a community activist and began writing articles calling attention to the plight of African Americans. She wrote for a weekly Black newspaper called The Living Way.
Wells-Barnett’s teaching career ended upon her “dismissal in 1891 for protesting about the conditions in Black schools” (Salley, 1993, p.115). During her time as a school teacher, Wells-Barnett along with other Black teachers was said to have gathered and “shared writing and discussion on Friday evening, and produced a newspaper covering the week’s events and gossip.” (Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.151). The newspaper was officially established and published and distributed under the name Memphis Free Speech and Headlights throughout the Back community a year after she was dismissed.
It has been said that her motivation to become a social analyst was the results of her involvement with the Memphis Free Speech and Headlights both as editor and columnist under the pen name Lola and as part owner. Unfortunately, her printing press was destroyed and she was run out of town by a White mob (Sally, 1993).
After getting dismissed from her teaching position, her attention then shifted from schools to the issue that would dominate her work for most of her life; lynching. Lynching was the brutal and lawless killing of Black men and women, often falsely accused of crimes, and usually perpetrated by sizable violent mobs of Whites.
It was during this Reconstruction Era, after the Civil War, that Black men made immediate civil gains such as voting, holding public office, and owning land. Yet, groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) developed at the turn of the century as a response. They made it difficult for Southern Blacks to vote or live in peace, attempting to maintain White supremacy through coercion and violence, including lynching (Salzman, 2004) .
Infuriated by the Memphis lynching in 1892, which involved a close friend, Ida expressed her grief in an editorial: “The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the White man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are outnumbered and without arms. There is therefore only one thing left we can do; save our money and leave town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, when accused by White persons” (Hine, 1993).
At the same time Wells saw what lynching really was; an excuse to “keep the nigger down” and execute Blacks “who acquired wealth and property.” (Duster, 1971) This sparked her investigation into the causes of lynchings. Since Whites could no longer hold Blacks as slaves they found in mob violence a different means of maintaining a system of “economic, psychological, and sexual exploitation” (Duster, 1971).
In addition, the result of her investigation and editorial sparked the Black community to retaliate and encourage all who could to leave, and those who stayed to boycott the city Railroad Company. Ida saw the success of the boycott, and asserted, “the appeal to the White man’s pocket has ever been more effectual than all appeals ever made to his conscience.” (Duster, 1971.)
As mentioned earlier, because of Well-Barnett’s racial identity, her social theory was well shaped by the events unfolding within her community as experienced by the first generation of African-Americans after Emancipation (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998). According to Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998): “This community took as one assumption that White dominance and its accompanying doctrine of White supremacy had to be confronted. American social Darwinists were giving doctrine of White intellectual legitimacy to Whites, which at this time meant Anglo-Saxon, imperialism abroad and supremacy at home, providing dogma such as that in James K. Hosmer’s“Short History of Anglo-Saxon Freedom”(p. 159).
Wells-Barnett’s social theory is considered to be a radical non-Marxian conflict theory with a focus on a “pathological interaction between differences and power in U.S. society. A condition they variously label as repression, domination, suppression, despotism, subordination, subjugation, tyranny, and our American conflict.” (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.161).
Her social theory was also considered “Black Feminism Sociology,” and according to Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998), there was four presented themes within the theory: one, her object of social analysis and of a method appropriate to the project; two, her model of the social world; three, her theory of domination and four, her alternative to domination. Although those four themes were present in her theory, one could assume that the major theme above the four was the implication of a moral form of resistance against oppression, which is not farfetched seeing that oppression was the major theme in her life.
She used an amazingly straight-forward writing style to prove a very bold argument against lynching, discrediting the excuse of rape and other excuses. Wells used specific examples and sociological theories to disprove the justifications of lynching made by Southerners. Within her pamphlets, Wells portrays the views of African-Americans in the 1890s.
Southerners allowed widespread lynchings while hiding behind the excuse of “defending the honor of its women.”(Jones-Royster, 1997). The charge of rape was used in many cases to lynch innocent African-American men. The victim’s innocence was often proved after his death. Wells states that the raping of White women by Negro men is an outright lie. Wells supports her statements with several stories about mutual relationships between White women and Black men. White men are free to have relationships with colored women, but colored men will receive death for relationships with white women (Duster, 1971).
As shown by Wells, the excuses used by Whites to torture and murder African-Americans were false. In no way can these kinds of crimes ever be truly justified because of the victim’s crimes. Perhaps the most obvious reasons these crimes happened are hate and fear. Differences between groups of people have always caused fear of the unknown, which translates into hate. Whites no longer depended on African-American slave labor for their livelihood. When African Americans were slaves they were considered “property” and “obviously, it was more profitable to sell slaves than to kill them”(Jones-Royster, 1997). With all restraint of “property” and “profit” lifted, Whites during and after Reconstruction were able to freely give into their fear and hate by torturing and killing African-Americans.
Wells’ investigations revealed that regardless of whether one was poor and jobless or middle-class, educated, and successful, all Blacks were vulnerable to lynching. Black women, too, were victimized by mob violence and terror. Occasionally they were lynched for alleged crimes and insults, but more often these women were left behind as survivors of those lynched. Up to this time, African-Americans had almost never been free from some form of persecution; the period of Reconstruction was particularly difficult. With the occurrences of lynching steadily increasing with no hope of relenting, their new found freedom ensured little safety.
Eventually, Wells was drawn to Chicago in 1893 to protest the racism of the exclusion of African Americans from the World’s Fair. With the help of Frederick Douglass, she distributed 20,000 pamphlets entitled “The Reason Why the Colored American is Not in the Columbian Exposition.” On June 27, 1895, she married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, lawyer and editor of the Chicago Conservator, and continued to write while raising four children with him (Duster, 1971).
Ida believed firmly in the power of the vote to effect change for African-American men and women. She saw enfranchisement as the key to reform and equality, and she integrated the Women’s Suffrage movement by marching in the 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., with the all White Illinois delegation (Sterling, 1979).
She continued to write in her later years, and remained one of the most widely syndicated Black columnists in America. She published articles on race issues and injustices that were printed in African-American newspapers nationwide. Toward the end of her life, Ida worked to address the social and political concerns of African-Americans in Chicago. She made an unsuccessful run as an independent candidate for the Illinois State Senate in 1930, and died the next year of the kidney disease uremia (Duster, 1971).
Wells-Barnett’s influence was profound. When the federal government built the first low-income housing project in Chicago’s “Black belt” in 1940, it was named in her honor (Sterling, 1979). Her autobiography was published posthumously by her daughter, Alfreda Duster in 1971.
In Chicago, she helped to found a number of Black female and reform organizations, such as the Ida B. Wells Club, the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, and the Chicago Negro Fellowship League. She also served as director of Chicago’s Cook County League of Women’s Clubs. These clubs were a means for Blacks to join together for support and to organize to effect change (Duster, 1971). At the national level, Wells-Barnett was a central figure in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women, a visible organization that worked for adequate child care, job training, and wage equity, as well as against lynching and transportation segregation.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s passion for justice made her a tireless crusader for the rights of African Americans and women. She was a social reformer, a suffragist, a civil rights activist, and a philanthropist. Her writings, regardless of the risk to her safety and life, raised public awareness and involvement to address a number of social ills resulting in the oppression or murder of African Americans.
Her service of time through the creation of myriad clubs and organizations improved the lives of her people. Her work in Chicago, in her final years, focused on providing for the needs of the city’s African American population. Modeled after Jane Addams’ Settlement House efforts, Wells created urban houses for Black men, where they could live safely and have access to recreational amusements while they searched for employment (Hines, 1993).
Ida B. Wells-Barnett is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of the Civil Rights movement.” She refused to be moved from the Whites only railway car eighty years before the famous Rosa Parks held her seat on an Alabama bus. She encouraged the Black community to take steps to gain political rights, using the same means that would successfully be used much later during the Civil Rights movement such as economic and transportation boycotts (Hines, 1993).
In similar fashion to Margaret Sanger (of the Birth Control movement) and Susan B. Anthony (of the Women’s Suffrage movement), Wells-Barnett was a woman who dedicated her entire life to upholding her firm beliefs about social reform. She began by writing about the disparity in education and school conditions for Black children and spent much of her life working to abolish lynching through public awareness (Hines, 1993). Ida, through her example, writings, speaking, and service in various organizations, elevated the voice of women’s equality and suffrage. She was a pioneering Black female journalist, and led a very public life in a time when most women, Black or White, did not actively participate in the male political realm.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was connected to many prominent leaders and reformers, male and female, during her lifetime. Among them: Jane Addams (1860-1935) was a social reformer, social worker and the founder of Chicago’s Hull House, the most famous of the settlement houses. Addams and Wells-Barnett successfully worked together to block the segregation of Chicago’s public schools (Sterling, 1979).
She was also connected to W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) who was a famous Black scholar, sociologist, researcher, writer, and civil rights activist who voiced opposition to the accomodationist views of his contemporary, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915). Washington urged African Americans to focus on self-improvement through education and economic opportunity instead of pressing Whites for political rights.
Ida B. Wells outwardly disagreed with Booker T. Washington’s position on industrial education and was mortified with his implication that “Blacks were illiterate and immoral, until the coming of Tuskegee.” (Hine, 1993) Outraged by his remarks, she considered his rejection of a college education as a “bitter pill.” (Hine, 1993). She wrote an article entitled “Booker T. Washington and His Critics”regarding industrial education. “This gospel of work is no new one for the Negro. It is the South’s old slavery practice in a new dress.” (Hine, 1993).
She felt that focusing only on industrial education would limit the opportunities of aspiring young Blacks and she saw Washington as no better than the Whites that justified their actions through lynching. Wells-Barnett joined DuBois in his belief that African Americans should militantly demand civil rights, and the two worked together on several occasions, most substantially as co-founders of the NAACP.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a founding member, is still a thriving organization with thousands of members nationally. The association continues to advocate for the advancement of African Americans.
Two of the primary issues on which Wells-Barnett worked on, anti-lynching and women’s suffrage, are now defunct issues. Lynching is a federal crime and women received the vote in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. For this reason, related groups that arose at the time, such as the Anti-lynching League, the Freedmen’s Aid Society, and the National Association of Colored Women are no longer in existence. Yet, the League of Women Voters was created as an outgrowth of the suffragist movement, and is an organization that still educates men and women about their responsibilities as voters.
Wells-Barnett’s contribution to the field of sociology is so significant that her work “predates or is contemporaneous with the now canonized contributions of White male thinkers like Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, George Simmel, and George Herbert Mead, as well as the contributions of White female sociologists like Adams, Gilman, Marianne Weber, Webb, and the Chicago Women” (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.171).
Ms. Wells-Barnett is an inspiring example of the power of the written word and the determination to succeed despite the odds. She was an African American woman, the daughter of slaves and considered the lowest of the low on the historical totem pole in American society and her tenacity, ambition, courage and desire for justice changed history. She was direct and possessed strength during a time when this was unheard of by a woman, especially a Black woman. A reformer of her time, she believed African-Americans had to organize themselves and fight for their independence against White oppression. She roused the White South to bitter defense and began the awakening of the conscience of a nation.
Through her campaign, writings, and agitation she raised crucial questions about the future of Back Americans. Today African-Americans do not rally against oppression like those that came before. Gone are the days when Blacks organized together; today Blacks live in a society that does not want to get involved as a whole. What this generation fails to realize is that although the days of Jim Crow have disappeared, it is important to realize that the fight for equality is never over.
In the preface of On Lynching: Southern Horrors, A Red Record and A Mob Rule in New Orleans (a compilation of her major works), she writes, “The Afro-American is not a bestial race. If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service. Other considerations are of minor importance” (Wells, 1969).
Barnett, Ida. B. Wells. (1969). On Lynching: Southern Horrors A Red Record and Mob Rule in New Orleans. New York, New York: Arno Press.
Bolden, Tonya. (1996) The Book of African-American Women: 150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters. Avon, MA: Adams Media.
Duster, Alfreda M. (1971).Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida. B. Wells. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Hine, Darlene Clark, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, & Elsa B. Brown, Eds.(1993). Black Women in America. Vol. 2. Brooklyn, New York: Carlson Publishing.
Jones-Royster, Jacqueline. (1997). Southern Horrors and Other Writings; The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Lengermann, P. M. & Niebrugge-Brantley, J. (1998). The Woman Founders: Sociology and Social Theory, 1830-1930. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Salley, Columbus. (1993). The Black 100: A ranking of the most influential African-Americans, post and present. New York: Carol Publishing Group.
Salzman, Jack, ed. (2001). African-American Culture and History. Vol. 4. New York, New York: Macmillian Reference USA, 2001, 881-83. .
Sterling, Dorothy. (1979). Black Foremothers: Three Lives. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Feminist Press, 1979, 60-117.