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Making Ida B. Wells

1893 photo by Mary Garrity/Restored by Adam Cuerden

Making Ida B. Wells

1893 photo by Mary Garrity/Restored by Adam Cuerden

Ida B. Wells used truth as a weapon

When Ida B. Wells was just 21 years old, authorities kicked her off a train for sitting in the all-white “ladies’ car.” She sued. She wrote about the experience in her local church newspaper. “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap,” she later said. She would soon become one of America’s greatest journalism pioneers. After the lynching of her close friend, she investigated the prevalence of lynchings across the American South. She collected data, interviewed sources on the ground and wrote fiery articles that dispelled racist myths. By the end of the campaign, she was one of the most famous Black women in America. While her force can be felt over a century later, in her time Wells faced backlash from the white and Black community alike. She co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – or NAACP – in 1909, but was temporarily ousted for being too radical. “Doing good journalism actually means that you're not making any friends,” said journalist Caitlin Dickerson, who wrote Wells’ obituary for The New York Times series Overlooked. “It’s a bad sign if there's one group of people who think of you as ‘on their side.’” On the latest episode of Making, host Brandon Pope leads a conversation with Dickerson, Wells’ great-granddaughter and author of Ida B. the Queen Michelle Duster, and acclaimed scholar Paula Giddings, author of Ida: A Sword Among Lions, on the life and legacy of this journalism and civil rights hero.

1893 photo by Mary Garrity/Restored by Adam Cuerden

 

When Ida B. Wells was just 21 years old, authorities kicked her off a train for sitting in the all-white “ladies’ car.” She sued. She wrote about the experience in her local church newspaper.

“I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap,” she said later.

She would soon become one of America’s greatest journalism pioneers. After the lynching of her close friend, she investigated the prevalence of lynchings across the American South. She collected data, interviewed sources on the ground and wrote fiery articles that dispelled racist myths. By the end of the campaign, she was one of the most famous Black women in America.

While her force can be felt over a century later, in her time Wells faced backlash from the white and Black community alike. She co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – or NAACP – in 1909, but was temporarily ousted for being too radical.

“Doing good journalism actually means that you're not making any friends,” said journalist Caitlin Dickerson, who wrote Wells’ obituary for The New York Times series Overlooked. “It’s a bad sign if there's one group of people who think of you as ‘on their side.’”

On the latest episode of Making, host Brandon Pope leads a conversation with Dickerson, Wells’ great-granddaughter and author of Ida B. the Queen Michelle Duster, and acclaimed scholar Paula Giddings, author of Ida: A Sword Among Lions, on the life and legacy of this journalism and civil rights hero.

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