Ida B. Wells Shone the Light on the Evils of Lynching

Ida B Wells lynching

Penguin Classics has compiled a comprehensive selection of articles Ida B. Wells wrote during her long career.

There’s a notable group of writers who exposed hideous truths and awoke the conscience of millions. Upton Sinclair exposed the meatpacking industry. Jacob Riis publicized how “the other half lives.” Nelly Bly laid bare the bleakness of mental institutions. And a Black journalist named Ida B. Wells showed the world the horrors of lynching in America.

 

Born a slave in 1862, Ida B. Wells gained freedom with the ending of the Civil War. However, the end of slavery was not the end of white supremacy. Some 72 years before Rosa Parks’s refusing to give up her seat sparked the civil rights movement, Wells was arrested for doing the same on a train. She started her writing career chronicling that action. However, the racism she would report in subsequent articles was of a much more sinister, lethal nature. This anthology, The Light of Truth brings these pieces together.

 

The first Chapter includes her early writings under the pseudonym Iola, which provides the context of post-Reconstruction racism. Then, in the following Chapter, Wells brings together her groundbreaking reporting on lynching. Most notable is her essay Southern Horrors, which also explains “Lynch Law in All Its Phases.” Ida B. Wells is also noteworthy for exposing the rape myth of the Black man as a sexual threat (which the lynch mobs and enabling law-enforcement officials used to justify their acts). Indeed, this racist trope is still visible in 21st-century America.

 

Chapter 3 comprises Ms. Wells’s reporting in Great Britain. During her two speaking tours, she not only made the people of that country aware of the atrocities in the U.S., she also awoke that nation’s conscience to its own history of the slave trade. Yet, there here safety was not in jeopardy.

 

Ida B Wells lynching

Ida B Wells in an 1883 photo by Mary Garrity, which was restored by Adam Cuerden.

The fourth chapter includes A Red Record, a careful compilation of the actual occurrences of lynching throughout the South, as well as in some northern states. In the preface of this, Ms. Well’s longest work, Frederick Douglass said, “Let me give you thanks for your faithful paper on the lynch abomination…. There is no word equal to it in convincing power.” He continued: “Brave woman! You have done more for your people and mine a service which can neither be weighed nor measured.” This essay is still very much relevant today. The Equal Justice Initiative, the organization Bryan Stevenson founded and described in his acclaimed book, Just Mercy, has continued this critical documentation. In fact, EJI recently reported on its recent finding of an additional 2,000 Black people murdered through lynching. Although whites were also the victims of lynch mobs, Ms. Wells assembled the hard statistics to demonstrate how Blacks were murdered in this manner in much greater numbers, using this to support her claim that lynching was an act of racism, white supremacy.

 

The fifth and final chapter is a compilation of her writing of the 20th century. Declaring lynching “the greatest outrage of the century,” these articles are calls for action. Among them are enfranchisement, written in 1910, something that would not become law for another 55 years.

 

This excellent anthology includes detailed notes for historical context and a fine essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr. In May, 2020, “For her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching,” Ida B. Wells was finally honored with the Pulitzer Prize. As to why this matters, an article in the Washington Post explains, “Wells shone a light on the incongruities between American lynching narratives and the realities of mob violence.” That day, Nikole Hannah-Jones also earned a Pulitzer, for the landmark “1619 Project” in the New York Times. In her writings assembled here, Ida B. Wells, probably more than anyone else, brought the darkness of violence of Black Americans to light.

Every Action Counts for Refugees Worldwide

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Syrian and Iraqi refugees reach the coastal waters of Lesbos in Greece, after having crossed from Turkey. Photo by Ggia, in the public domain, at Wikimedia Commons

 

As the recent protests against all forms of racism across the United States and over the world have made clear, we each have a moral obligation to advocate for the marginalized and oppressed. June 20 is World Refugee Day; the theme this year is “Every Action Counts.”

 

According to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is “someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” The agency records that 20 people flee war, persecution, or terror every minute. The worldwide tally is nearly 80 million people, 10 million in 2019 alone. That is one percent of all humanity, the highest number ever recorded, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

 

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic poses an additional threat to these already vulnerable people. In reminding all countries of their obligations to protect refugees, U.N. Secretary-General António Gutierres affirmed that many refugees are working as doctors, nurses, and other essential persons on already the front line of the COVID-19 crisis. “Today, and every day, we stand in unity and solidarity with refugees and recognize our fundamental obligation to shelter those fleeing war and persecution.” For many, according to Unicef, including in sub-Saharan Africa, “returning home isn’t an option.” Yet, as a recent New York Times editorial pointed out, in detaining and sending asylum seekers back to the countries they are fleeing, the United States “is now consciously spreading the pandemic beyond its borders by continuing to deport thousands of immigrants, many infected with the coronavirus, to poor countries ill equipped to cope with the disease.”

 

 

The Children

Unicef stresses that children make up many, too many, of those fleeing their homes. “A child is a child, no matter why she leaves home, where she comes from, where she is, or how she got there. Every child deserves protection, care and all the support and services she needs to thrive,” according to Unicef. These uprooted are five times more likely to be out of school. Though the majority of these children are in Africa, Americans cannot ignore the suffering of children along their southern border, such as this four-month-old child.

 

Able to donate? Charity Navigator lists several highly rated agencies helping refugees and immigrants.

The Amazing Grace of Mother Emanuel

Emanuel_AME_Charleston,_South_Carolina_Kellyjeanne9

Mourners gather outside Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Charleston, on June 21, 2015. Photo by Kellyjeanne9, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

 

It was five years ago today that a white supremacist took out his gun and started shooting a group engaged in Bible study. Moments earlier, the congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. had welcomed the stranger to their group. In a barrage of 70 rounds, nine souls lay dead. Among them were the community leader, the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, and eight parishioners:

  • Ethel Lee Lance, 70
  • Cynthia Graham Hurd, 54
  • Susie J. Jackson, 87
  • DePayne Vontrease Middleton-Doctor, 49
  • Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, 26
  • Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., 74
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
  • Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson, 59.

Only three of the group survived. The Reverend Sharon Risher, the daughter of Ms. Lance, has written a book, For Such a Time as This. Yet, now, in 2020, according to Debbie Elliott of N.P.R., she is asking, What have we learned? She points out that when the police apprehended the shooter (I will not say his name), a dangerous serial murderer, they did so without drawing their pistols. There is not need to point out the disconnect with what happened to Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. Furthermore, South Carolina is among only four states that has yet to pass a hate crime bill.

 

Mother Emanuel, as the church is affectionately known, just posted a video of the memorial it held on its Facebook page. Looking forward, the church has planned several events over the coming week:

AME Charleston Events 2020

“We are Mother Emanuel, a light in the pathway of darkness.”

 

In reflecting, here is President Barack Obama’s speech. His performance of “Amazing Grace,” at 35:00, continues to haunt me to this day.

Children and Parents Come Together and Stand Up to Racism

Sesame Street Standing Up to Racism

CNN and Sesame Street teamed up to present a virtual town hall, Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism. The show has been recorded and can be seen on CNN’s page. CNN  has also compiled a valuable page, with sections for each age group: How to Talk to Your Child About Protests and Racism.

 

Why Is There Racism and What Can Children and Their Parents Do?

“I’m hoping for a better change in people to make sure everybody is kind to one another,” said Laila, a 7-year-old girl. Abby Cadabby agreed. Gabrielle added she wanted to be treated with kindness and respect.

Then, there was Elmo, who asked what a protest is. His dad explained that people make signs to make things better. “A protest is when people come together to show they are upset and disagree with something. They want to make others aware of the problem,” he said. “With protest, people are able to share their feelings and then work together and make things better. The protesters are sad… and they have every right to be.” “People are upset because racism is a huge problem in our country.”

“Not all streets are like Sesame Street,” explains Elmo’s dad. “But on other streets people are treated unfairly because of the way they look. They are saying enough is enough with racism.”

Van Jones, explained how African Americans are often treated differently by people in society, especially some police officers. Big Bird joined in, but he had to learn that standing up means making changes. A boy named Solomon asked why racism is still a concern when the Civil Rights Era was so long ago. Van explained that racism has been around for a very long time. Stella, Abram, and Saige wanted to know how kids like them can help stop racism. Erica Hill

Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mayor of Atlanta. First, she explained that when you see someone say something that is wrong, say that it is wrong. A boy, Sean, asked, “If black people have contributed so much, why are they still put down?” Van and the mayor explained that, sometimes, people put others down when they are feeling badly about themselves. “You can’t treat people the way people the way they treat you. You have to treat them the way you want to be treated,” she added.

A girl named Anaya asked why not “All Lives Matter”? Mayor Bottoms said that there is a history of black people in this country that’s unlike any other race. We were brought to this country as slaves. We must correct misconceptions.

Cortni, a mother of two, asked whether is it too early to explain this to her very young sons? They want to know why she keeps crying. Mayor Bottoms replied, “I don’t think it’s too early to have this conversation,” explaining that we need to put it in a context they can understand. And they should be allowed to feel the anger and sadness they see in their parents.”

Rosita asked, “Why do we all have different skin colors?” Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, Pediatrician. Explained the role of melanin in skin color. Later, Jeanette Betancourt, of Sesame Street, “It’s important to talk about how people are treated unfairly because of their skin color. Nobody should be treated that way. Children and families are taking action together.”

Kyle wants to be a neurosurgeon when he grows up. “Can I operate on racist brains to change them?” Dr. he asks. Garris responded that as doctors, you care for everyone. By healing people’s hearts now, you will be able to heal their bodies later.”

“Children will see that our actions are more important than our words,” said Dr. Betancourt.

Xavier asked the same question as Solomon earlier, saying that Nana talked about protesting in the 1960s. “And here were are again,” said Gordon and Maria, saying marching and protesting for change, so we won’t have to confront racism again. “We’ve got to change the course of history, now

 

Empathy and Action

Abby Cadabby was back to say she said she is upset at how people are treated around the country. She cited her friend, Big Bird, who was bullied because of his yellow feathers. “You are showing empathy,” said Van, explaining the word. Van said that not only did Abby show empathy, she also took action. “That’s what we need people to do around racism.”

“Standing up and acting are the steps we all must to do,” said Erica.

Alliah, a mom, asked about the balance of informing our children and protecting them and not burdening them with additional anxiety. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a psychologist, explained that what is fair and unfair is something even young children can readily understand.

Christa, mom, asked about the very important topic of white privilege. Dr Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, said that white privilege is that white people in American society have many unjust benefits, just because we are white, not because we deserve them. “The most dangerous kind of white privilege is that we can just sit this struggle out.”

There are many books for children on the topic of racism for parents to read with their children in an age-appropriate way. Dr. Tatum recommends Socialjusticebooks.org.

Then, it was time for Elmo to introduce his friend, a girl named Saniya. “What do I do when I encounter racism?” Dr. Harvey says all children need to learn how to deal with racism – black kids if they are a target of it or white kids to call it out. “Learn that we can all learn to be anti-racist together,” she said. That also goes for other types of bigotry, such as that aimed at Asian Americans, as we have witnessed in this age of COVID-19.

Our children learn about antiracism from us. We need be in action. “Our children learn anti-racism from us,” said Dr. Harvey.

Big Bird presented his friend, Keedron Bryant, Gospel singer, sang a song about how he feels. “I Just Want to Live.” He wants all of us to live life. Van – “We’re counting on your generation to make things better.”

Keedron Bryant: “I feel we could all change the world.”

 

Coming Together

Many of us have seen that uplifting video of little two little boys, one black, one white – Maxwell and Finnegan – running to each other.

Children expressed fear about how they will be treated by an officer. Charles Ramsey, former Philly Police Commissioner, explained how there are some police officers who are acting badly. We must make sure that no police officer, no one, should be treated differently because of the color of their skin. Tell a grownup if you see an officer doing wrong. The police should be there to serve and protect.

A’Dream – will the revolution continue after the cameras are rolling. Van – “This movement will go on as long as we expand who we care about.”

“I can do better!” That’s what the protests are about, for us and for our country.

Crying for Justice in the Name of Mercy: A Review of a Critically Important Book

Just Mercy - 004

 

In the five decades since the early 1970s, America’s prison population swelled from 300,000 to 2.3 million (in 2014). The U.S. has the unenviable distinction of having the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Furthermore, as Stevenson points out, “one in every fifteen people born in the United states in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born this century is expected to be incarcerated.” Many of these people have not committed a violent crime. Petty larceny and drug offenses have become crimes for which people have been imprisoned for decades. The burden falls on a disproportionate number of people of color, both in terms of the offenses for which people are imprisoned and the types of misdemeanors that are prosecuted. Furthermore, “our system traumatizes and victimizes people … not just the accused, but also their families, their communities, and even the victims of crime.”

 

Monroeville, Alabama, celebrated native daughter, Harper Lee. A local theatre troupe, the Mockingbird Players, presented an adaptation of her classic work. Yet, that was not enough to keep a black man, Walter McMillan from being arrested and condemned to die… for a crime he did not commit. The irony was not lost on Stevenson, and McMillan became his first case, one that would lead him on his journey of defending individuals wrongfully convicted. Stevenson recounts the detective work he had to undertake to uncover racially motivated conspiracies to convict someone, often for the sake of conviction. Stevenson also sued on behalf of families seeking damages for relatives who died in prison, such as Lourida Ruffin, a gentle giant brutally beaten and incarcerated for driving with an expired license.

 

Especially tragic are the cases of Trina, Ian, and Antonio, children labeled in the 1990s as “super-predators” and condemned to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Although a 2001 Surgeon General’s report found that no evidence that juveniles at that that time were more frequent or more vicious offenders, it was too late for them, members of “all God’s children.” Likewise, some of the men Stevenson defended were mentally ill or had an intellectual disability.

 

Though Just Mercy often reads as a detective novel, the accounts of these very real people are always harrowing. These stories are all part of Bryan Stevenson’s work at the organization he founded in 1989, the Equal Justice Initiative. The group is dedicated “to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

 

Thanks to Stevenson’s work, Walter was released, but the individual who committed the murderer for which he was accused and incarcerated was never found, and the crime remains unprosecuted.

 

“Walter genuinely forgave… the people who judged him unworthy of mercy. And in the end, it was just mercy toward others that allowed him to recover a live worth celebrating, a life that rediscovered the love and freedom that all humans desire, a life that overcame death and condemnation until it was time to die on God’s schedule.”

 

“We have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent,” says Stevenson. Furthermore, “The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill?

 

As Stevenson relates, “Walter had taught me that mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the underserving.”