Culture

Ida B Wells

The media gets a bad Press. Mostly that is their own fault for poor reporting and not holding to account those in power. Not asking the difficult questions, suppressing the views of those who question and basically pumping out propaganda.

There is nothing new in this. Fake news has always been used to promote and encourage people to buy into a skewed viewpoint.

Mary as mermaid

Mary Queen of Scots portrayed as a mermaid. A slur on her character as being free with her sexual favours

There has always been – and there still is – news media and journalists who do report issues which the established outlets would like to ignore, even suppress.

This is the first of a series of articles which will look at the work of those who have sought to honestly report what is happening.

Ida B Wells

Ida B. Wells

photo credit: Barnett

Ida B Wells was a black woman born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16th 1862. This was during the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

After the Civil War there followed the ‘Reconstruction Era’. This is  an area of history that continues to be misinterpreted but there are reviews of it which throw light on the failures, horrific lynchings and why it is important today. Why Reconstruction Matters By 

Citizenship, rights, democracy — as long as these remain contested, so will the necessity of an accurate understanding of Reconstruction. More than most historical subjects, how we think about this era truly matters, for it forces us to think about what kind of society we wish America to be. Eric Foner professor of history at Columbia University

Ida grew up in the Reconstruction Era and her parents who were active politically instilled in her the importance of education. Enrolled in Rust College she was expelled after a dispute with the president of the college. In 1878 both her parents died of yellow fever. Her baby brother also died. Returning home Ida took up a teaching post while caring for her siblings.

Ida reported for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper. Most of the newspapers of the day were controlled by white men and reported the news with that bias. Fake news and racist propaganda about black people were prevalent in these newspapers. The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper reported the news from a black perspective.

Ida wrote an incredibly well researched piece on the lynching of black men which became a pamphlet for distribution, click on the link to access it: “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases,”

It is with no pleasure I have dipped my hands in the corruption here exposed. Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.

The awful death-roll that Judge Lynch is calling every week is appalling, not only because of the lives it takes, the rank cruelty and outrage to the victims, but because of the prejudice it fosters and the stain it places against the good name of a weak race.

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 IDA B. WELLS
New York City, Oct. 26, 1892

The book can also be accessed from the digital collection from the New York Public Library: Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases

The lynchings – hanging innocent black men – Ida reported on were not executed by some mad group of thugs but by ‘respectable’ white business men and community leaders.

The article so enraged the white population that a huge mob descended on the newspaper offices and succeeded in closing it down. Ida fled with her family to Chicago where she continued to write and campaign in the Civil Rights Movement.

You can read more about Ida B Wells here: Ida B Wells- Barnett

The reporting of news and views accurately is something we should not allow to be erased. The news of the lynchings in the South was ‘sold’ in the white press as justified. What it actually represented was murder – terrorism of a people by public killings. The bravery of Ida B Wells and her fellow journalists who reported and published what was actually happening is amongst the finest examples of journalism there is.

So if you are tempted to berate all reporters and news media, please remember that there are those out there who do not fear to publish and to keep us informed of what is actually happening.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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