The Undervalued Legacy of Ida B. Wells

Paying homage to “perhaps the first journalist to speak out on the racist and sexist implications of lynching,” Black Agenda Report‘s Sikivu Hutchinson (3/11/09) says that the “relative obscurity” of Ida B. Wells doesn’t reflect well on the present day:

Despite her challenges to the American criminal justice system, her long record of publication at home and abroad, and her influence on Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois (both of whom were ambivalent if not threatened by her single-mindedness), Wellsâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢ legacy remains undervalued. Eclipsed by the cult of charismatic masculinity that privileged the contributions of male leaders like Douglas and DuBois, her relative obscurity parallels her conflicts with a black political establishment that deemed her too radical for her gender. Remarking that “the people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press,” Wells remains a beacon of justice and a testament to the radical power of black feminist media literacy.

Hutchinson imagines that, “as a Chicago organizer ever skeptical of black politicians,” Wells, “catapulted into 21st century America…might have initially celebrated the election of Barack Obama, then used her bully pulpit to separate the rhetoric of post-racial inclusion from the reality of racial apartheid.”