November 7, 2008
Critical Book Review
THEY SAY: IDA B. WELLS AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF RACE
By James West Davidson
Ida B. Wells, an African-American woman, and feminist, shaped the image of empowerment and citizenship during post-reconstruction times. The essays, books, and newspaper articles she wrote, instigated the dialogue of race struggles between whites and blacks, while her personal narratives, including two diaries, a travel journal, and an autobiography, recorded the personal struggle of a woman to define womanhood during post-emancipation America. The novel, _THEY SAY: IDA B. WELLS AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF RACE_ , provides an insight into how Ida B. Wells's life paralleled that of African-Americans trying to gain citizenship and empowerment in post-slavery America.
From the beginning, Ida B. Wells was shaped by firm moral convictions and religious beliefs taught to her by her mother and father. Ida B. Wells was born to Jim and Elizabeth Wells in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. Ida B. Wells attended Shaw University until the deaths of her parents and youngest brother during the yellow fever epidemic that claimed her parents' lives in less than a week. She mentioned in her diary that her parents would "turn in their graves" if her remaining family were to be separated, so at sixteen, she became a schoolteacher, in order to support her brothers and sisters so they would not be given to different parents and separated. Later, she began teaching in Woodstock, Tennessee, a rural community in Shelby County, but moved to Memphis when she obtained a position in the public schools in 1884.
During this year in Memphis, Ida B. Wells sued the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroads after she was lifted and carried out and removed from the first-class ladies' coach by the train conductor. In December 1884 the circuit court ruled in her favor, but three years later the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the decision. That experience prompted Ida B. Wells to write letters to Memphis weeklies and, later, to African American newspapers like the _New York Freeman_ and _Gate City Press_.
During her tenure as a writer for these papers, Ida B. Wells wrote several articles, such as "Our Women" and "Race Pride." These articles showed that Ida B. Wells was becoming more and more focused with African-American equality and issues with prejudice, and also with gender issues as a woman living in this time, especially an African-American woman. During this time, Ida B. Wells was becoming more and more noticed for her militant attitude in her writings. She became ostracized for her outspoken nature and blunt writings. Although criticized by the white community, she began to influence other black writers to realize their need for empowerment, and they began to speak out against their injustices.
Between 1885 and 1887 Ida B. Wells kept a diary describing her struggle as a single professional woman. Ida B. Wells wrote about her life as an independent woman, committed to working, self-improvement, and uplifting the black race. She recorded acts of mob violence, such as the act of mob-lynching black men by white men, for committing lewd acts against white women. Oftentimes, there was not any sufficient evidence to prove these men guilty, and Ida B. Wells wrote about the prejudice they faced by not going through due process of law before convicted and lynched. Ida B. Wells wrote the loss of her suit against the railroad companies as well. In addition, she wrote about conferences in Kansas and Kentucky, where she was elected secretary of the Negro Press Association.
Two years later, she bought an interest in the Memphis _Free Speech and Headlight_ and became a full-time journalist in 1891. During this time, Ida B. Wells lost her teaching position in the Tennessee County School Systems because of editorials attacking inferior segregated schools. After three...
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