Ida B Wells sat down to stand up for her rights 71 years before Rosa Parks on a segregated train instead of a segregated bus. However, Ida wasn't a trained activist like Rosa. She made a personal decision to give up her seat for a white man. They had carry her out of the train car she was in. She was kicking and biting the whole way.
Ida wrote about it for a hewspaper
She lost her case
She wrote about that loss for a newspaper
White Ida B was out of town some years later, friends of hers were lynched, ostensibly over a game of marbles being played between a white child and black child.
When two children started fighting, the black and white adults separating the fight started arguing. Things escalated things until over a day or so three black men were lynched.
Ida B came back home to find out that the white grocery story owner who had had a monopoly on business in the area wanted the black owners of "The People's Grocery" run off. And it was the white business store owner successfully parlayed the game of marbles into a lynching.
White Mission Accomplished: White Store Owner has a monopoly again
The white folk decided to take all the black people's guns away and make it illegal for them to have them.
This was one of the most significant things that happened that made black people realize that they needed the right to vote. Owning things and property wasn't enough. People with political power can and will take anything they want from you, legally. The people with political power have the power to make and change the laws.
Ida B. wrote about the reduction of black rights in town until the protest went from WE DEMAND THE RIGHT TO LIVE **to** WE ARE OUTTA HERE She scoped out a location in Oklahoma, came back, and managed to get black people to pick up and move west.
One of the most interesting things that she found was that black men were only ever accused of rape in 1/3 of all cases. Rape was made up/played up by white men in the white news papers as an excuse for lynching. And southern white men needed an excuse for lynching, whether there was a white woman available to lie or not, because the white south needed Northern money and European money for investment in the south after having lost the Civil War.
As for the real sex happening between white women and black men? Ida B reported on the savagery and suggested that some of the "rape cases" were actually interracial relationships between white women and black men.
White women's virtue having been called into question led to white folk wanting to Lynch Ida.
Ida B would write for newspapers and also wind up making 102 speeches while in Great Britain, calling on the people there to start Anti-lynching Societies. Translation: She got the British to stop buying southern white cotton from southern white murderers who tried to justify lynching. She would eventually be one of the founders of the NAACP. And the NAACP would take up anti-lynching as one of it's first causes.
Seventy years later Martin Luther King would expose the south in the same way that Ida did, except he wouldn't have to take newspaper articles he'd written and pictures of lynchings and carry them on a boat overseas to get anti-lynching commitments. Martin Luther King would get international support for equal rights by using television to show the world what was going on in the United States.
That concludes my thumbnail sketch of Ida B Well's activism and leadership. But my favorite thing about "Sword Among Lions" by Paula J Giddings is that it told the entire human story of Ida B. Wells.
Ida would be broke as a church mouse, get depressed, and go put money down a really nice dress.
She'd get indignant about class issues too. She'd worry about people looking down on her due to her lack of formal education. She could be touchy. She spent real time worrying about other folks maligning her character. And she rarely let a slight go unremarked. Some of this may have the times she was living in. But she was solidly in the camp of folks who believed that (what we now call) "respectability politics" was the way forward to equality with white people.
...UNTIL the lynching of three of her friends
I haven't read Ida B. Wells' autobiography, but reading her personality in the "A Sword Among Lions" biography it isn't hard to imagine that in writing about herself most of her heroic victories would have been left in and some of the humanity left out -- much like writers of textbooks have been doing to the history books in this country for decades.
The other human thing in "A Sword Among Lions" is the sexism black women endured.
Ida B. Wells needed the support of mostly male run black newspapers while she was in the U.K. stumping for Anti-Lynching Resolutions and she didn't get it. Some black newspapers and politicians went so far as to say she was making things sound worse than they were in order to secure their current standing in the cities they were living in at the time or simply because they didn't have faith that her approach was going to come to anything.
And she called them on it, publicly.
Frederick Douglass himself, wanting to stay on the good side of a white women's suffrage group---a group that needed southern white women in its numbers-- did not fully commit himself to her or her campaign while she was Britain. He was the only one she didn't call on the carpet, hero abolitionist that he was in her eyes. But according to Giddings, she did slyly let him know, in private, that she did not appreciate his occassionaly mealy-mouthed support.
The contributions of IDA B WELLS are not be missed. She was a feminist before the word "feminist" caught on. And she managed worked harder than most to secure the vote for women. In fact, Wells' Chicago was one of the first places where women were allowed to vote.
A SWORD AMONG LIONS is a long dense book. But it conveys so much about the black women's club movement and black women's history in general.