Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Black History Love Letter

Photo Credit: Erica Kennedy
As February competes with two of my favorite celebrations--Black History Month and Valentine's Day--it was difficult deciding which would be the focus of this month's blog. Luckily, a recent New York Times article highlighting the historical wedding announcement (here) of one of my favorite icons in Black History made me realize the two need not be autonomous. So, for the love of my people and the written word, I salute Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931).

I was a print journalism major at Howard University when the life of Ms. Wells, also a journalist, in addition to being a newspaper editor, activist, suffragist, sociologist, and feminist, became more of interest to me. Notably known for strapping herself with a pad, a pencil, and a pistol, Ms. Wells set out to document the conditions of blacks in the south and, most hauntingly, the lynchings that were taking place there. Fast becoming a target from angry white men and women, Wells was advised by friends to ease up on her editorials. Instead, she declared "[I had] already determined to sell my life as dearly as possible if attacked. I felt if I could take one lyncher with me, this would even up the score a little bit."

Photo Credit: Erica Kennedy
With that same fiery will, determination, and tenacity, it would be no surprise that, in addition to the many movements she created and was a part of throughout her life, that her most impacting would be working closely alongside historians and activists, W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Ms. Wells would continue her activism, working with Frederick Douglass to organize boycotts, touring the U.S. and Europe with her anti-lynching campaigns, and serving as an educator, all the while continuing to publish articles and pamphlets to bring awareness about the "Negro experience" in America, proving that she always knew the pen was mightier than the sword--even if not mightier then her pistol--and continued in the fight for equality, until her death.

Photo Credit: N/A
Although there are countless African-American heroes who not only shaped black history but American history, Ms. Wells' "unapologetic boldness" as an early female journalist is worthy of recognition and celebration, which is why on an anticipated visit to the National Museum of African-American History & Culture, I anxiously made my way through countless, powerful exhibits stretching from the Middle Passage to the Reconstruction Era, searching earnestly, until I came "face-to-face" with her, and then I smiled. And I exhaled. Because long before the Oprah's, the Cathy Hughes',  the Gwen Ifill's, and countless other tellers of our stories, there was Ida: courageous, intelligent, innovative, unshakable, and determined to not only make a difference but to be the difference.

At a time when claims of "fake news" is used in an attempt to dismantle the truth and the ethics of journalism are being constantly called into question, I am reminded of the power of the written word and in the importance of capturing both the good and bad of history. As we venture forth in this country's uncertain climate, where justice and liberty are facing a "lynching" of their own, let's all remain steadfast and vigilant in our fight to speak the truth and to be the truth, whether by picking up a pen or even a protest sign and, like our ancestors, continue to be foot soldiers for justice--just like Ida.

Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Black History Month!

Photo Credit: S. Ffolkes

No comments:

Post a Comment