This weekend, I began reading the book, Ida B. the Queen: the Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells by Michelle Duster. Duster is a professor and the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells. The book uses photos and primary source documents to highlight the incredible life of Ida B. Wells. I also watched the PBS American Experience documentary, "Ida B. Wells, A Passion for Justice" (1989) on Youtube. This fascinating documentary features the Nobel Prize winning author, Toni Morrison, who narrates the words of Wells.
Wells was a journalist and an activist who worked her entire life exposing injustice in American society, especially lynching, segregation, and voting rights. I have been thinking about her life in the context of teaching media and news literacy. During her lifetime, Wells questioned the media's portrayal of lynching, and did her own research to correct what was being printed. As an investigative journalist, she used evidence to argue that lynching was not about "punishment", but about terrorizing the African American community. She became a popular columnist in the Black press, and was eventually picked up by mainstream newspapers and gained a larger audience. Her fame as a writer and speaker made her a target of violent terrorist groups like the KKK, and was dubbed, "dangerous negro agitator" by the FBI in 1910. Her work gives an example of someone who used meticulous investigative journalism to uncover injustice, and wrote about the horrors of racism, Jim Crow, and voting rights in American newspapers. She was an advocate for using the First Amendment to bring about social change, despite having no political power as a Black woman during the turn of the century. She understood the power of the news media, but also the importance of holding it accountable when it does not serve the progression of social justice. To learn more about Ida B. Wells, check out the book Ida. B the Queen, coming soon to Destiny and the Sora app.