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To Tell The Truth Freely: The Life Of Ida B. Wells

by Mia Bay
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Hill and Wang
  • Publishing date: 17/02/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780809095292
  • ISBN: 0809095297

Synopsis

Born to slaves in 1862, Ida B. Wells became a fearless antilynching crusader, women’s rights advocate, and journalist. Wells’s refusal to accept any compromise on racial inequality caused her to be labeled a ?dangerous radical” in her day but made her a model for later civil rights activists as well as a powerful witness to the troubled racial politics of her era. In the richly illustrated To Tell the Truth Freely, the historian Mia Bay vividly captures Wells’s legacy and life, from her childhood in Mississippi to her early career in late nineteenth-century Memphis and her later life in Progressive-era Chicago.
 
Wells’s fight for racial and gender justice began in 1883, when she was a young schoolteacher who traveled to her rural schoolhouse by rail. Forcibly ejected from her seat on a train one day on account of her race, Wells immediately sued the railroad. Though she ultimately lost her case on appeal in the Supreme Court of Tennessee, the published account of her legal challenge to Jim Crow changed her life, propelling her into a career as an outspoken journalist and social activist. Also a fierce critic of the racial violence that marked her era, Wells went on to launch a crusade against lynching that took her across the United States and eventually to Britain. Though she helped found the NAACP in 1910 after resettling in Chicago, she would not remain a member for long. Always militant in her quest for racial justice, Wells rejected not only Booker T. Washington’s accommodationism but also the moderating influence of white reformers within the early NAACP. The life of Ida B. Wells and her enduring achievements are dramatically recovered in Mia Bay’s To Tell the Truth Freely.
Mia Bay is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University and the associate director of Rutgers’s Center for Race and Ethnicity. She is also the author of The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas About White People, 1830?1925.
Born to slaves in 1862, Ida B. Wells became a fearless anti-lynching crusader, women’s rights advocate, and journalist. Wells’s refusal to accept any compromise on racial inequality caused her to be labeled a ?dangerous radical” in her day but made her a model for later civil rights activists as well as a powerful witness to the troubled racial politics of her era. In the richly illustrated To Tell the Truth Freely, the historian Mia Bay vividly captures Wells’s legacy and life, from her childhood in Mississippi to her early career in late nineteenth-century Memphis and her later life in Progressive-era Chicago.

Wells’s fight for racial and gender justice began in 1883, when she was a young schoolteacher who traveled to her rural schoolhouse by rail. Forcibly ejected from her seat on a train one day on account of her race, Wells immediately sued the railroad. Though she ultimately lost her case on appeal in the Supreme Court of Tennessee, the published account of her legal challenge to Jim Crow changed her life, propelling her into a career as an outspoken journalist and social activist. Also a fierce critic of the racial violence that marked her era, Wells went on to launch a crusade against lynching that took her across the United States and eventually to Britain. Though she helped found the NAACP in 1910 after resettling in Chicago, she would not remain a member for long. Always militant in her quest for racial justice, Wells rejected not only Booker T. Washington’s accommodationism but also the moderating influence of white reformers within the early NAACP. The life of Ida B. Wells and her enduring achievements are dramatically recovered in Mia Bay’s To Tell the Truth Freely.
?In this remarkable book, Mia Bay understands Ida B. Wells in full?as thinker, writer, crusader, politician, and woman of the world. Finally, we have a biography worthy of one of the bravest and most influential activists in U.S. history.”?Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
?In this remarkable book, Mia Bay understands Ida B. Wells in full?as thinker, writer, crusader, politician, and woman of the world. Finally, we have a biography worthy of one of the bravest and most influential activists in U.S. history.”?Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan

?Ida B. Wells is one of America’s most important yet relatively unknown historical figures. Absorbing and insightful, To Tell the Truth Freely deftly chronicles the way in which her extraordinary life and career altered the evolution of race and democracy in late nineteenth- and early twentieth century America.”?Peniel E. Joseph, author of Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America

?Mia Bay’s biography of Ida B. Wells is as sharp and sassy as the woman herself. The vigilance and bravado of this dynamic black woman crusader shines through on every page. Bay’s triumphant tapestry reveals the life and times of an unsung heroine woven into battles for African-American freedom.”?Catherine Clinton, author of Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom

?At last?an eloquent, concise, yet richly detailed account of Ida B. Wells. Beautifully crafted, this book restores Wells to her rightful place in American political history by telling her story with verve and grace.”?Barbara D. Savage, author of Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion

"Mia Bay's biography of Ida B. Wells provides the reader with the rich details that are essential to viewing her as a person. This information about Wells, considered by many to have been the most influential black woman of her time, does more than help the reader revisit the life of a legend. Bay carefully lays a foundation for understanding Wells, who was born in Mississippi during the Civil War. Early in the book, the author, a Rutgers University historian, uses Wells' family stories to shed light on the lives of her parents and grandparents and introduce the reader to major influences on her development . . . Bay's use of Wells' diaries appear to be judicious, never being revealing for its own sake. Wells' private thoughts are used to help the reader understand the public choices she made. They also help demonstrate the differences between her values and those held by most other women of her time. In addition, Bay does a good job of relating the well-known story of Wells being forcibly removed from a train, the relationships she formed with those in England and the United States who helped to advance her anti-lynching campaign, and what she did and didn't have in common with others who were involved in advancing the causes of blacks and women. While the reader may recall many of the relevant facts about her life, additional bits of information in the book provide a freshness that keeps it interesting. Evidence of Wells' enormous courage and high tolerance for risk can be seen throughout the book. Bay presents Wells as someone who always knew her own mind and who accepted the risks that came with being true to herself. She may have acquired that trait from her father, Jim Wells, a man who also stood up for what he believed in. Through Bay's writing, it's not difficult to see why Wells, a diminutive woman, is considered a giant."?Wevonneda Mins, The Post and Courier (Charleston)

"Finely honed feminist biography of an impassioned crusader for civil rights in an era of vicious racial discrimination. Ida B. Wells' significant legacy as an activist, engaged journalist and outspoken critic of Southern lynching has been obscured by her confrontational methods, notes Bay. A child of Reconstruction, Wells (1862-1931) experienced firsthand the retraction of protections for freedmen that promptly followed the infamous Compromise of 1877. She took her first public stand at age 21. Commuting by train between her home in Memphis and a schoolteaching job in the countryside, she purchased a first-class ticket that entitled her to sit in the 'ladies' car,' and refused the conductor's order to move; it took three railroad employees to drag Wells to the second-class carriage. The two lawsuits she filed against the railroad earned her character assassinations from both white and black leaders, but she was beginning to find her voice as an agitator for African-American progress and women's concerns. She became editor and owner of the Memphis newspaper Free Speech, but after an incendiary editorial asserting that the claims of rape used to justify many lynchings were obviously false, threats on her life drove Wells from the South. She lived in New York and then Chicago, where she eventually married. She took up the gauntlet against lynching as the expression of a racist ideology that defensively defined black men as 'naturally lawless and predatory.' Lecturing publicly about sex and rape at a time when such subjects were taboo, Wells was frequently excoriated, though British audiences were more welcoming and supportive. Befriended by Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois, instrumental in starting such organizations as the NAACP, she remained controversial and could not garner sufficient support to elevate her to national leadership. Bay's intelligent, hard-hitting study puts Wells' achievements in context and will certainly solidify the standing of this brave activist and writer."?Kirkus Reviews

"Ida B. Wells, the civil rights and anti-lynching crusader all but forgotten for most of the 20th century, has received a great deal of scholarly i...


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  • A Civil Rights Pioneer
    From Amazon

    Ida B. Wells (1862 - 1931) was one of the first individuals to expose and oppose the lynching that became prevalent in the South and elsewhere in the years following Reconstruction. In the latter part of her life and for many years thereafter, Wells's life and accomplishments were in danger of being overlooked and marginalized. With the publication of her autobiography, "Crusade for Justice" (1971) and of her other writings together with several biographies, Ida Wells has since the 1970s been receiving overdue recognition. Mia Bay's recent biography, "To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells" (2009) offers a solid if dry account of Wells's life and accomplishments. Bay, associate professor of history at Rutgers University, is the associate director of Rutgers's Center for Race and Ethnicity and the author of "The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas About White People, 1830- 1925". Wells's parents were slaves when she was born at Holly Springs, Mississippi. With the end of the Civil War, her parents became activists in support of Reconstruction, which became the dominant influence on her life. When Wells was 16, her mother and father and two siblings died in a Yellow Fever epidemic. Wells became a rural schoolteacher to support her remaining younger sisters. She attended college sporadically but was expelled from Rusk College in 1881 for reasons which remain obscure. As a young woman, Wells moved to Memphis where she taught school and gradually found her way to writing and journalism using the name "Iola". Wells also filed a lawsuit against a railroad for forcing her to sit in a segregated, Jim Crow car. She ultimately lost her case on appeal. The defining moment of Wells's life occurred in 1892 when three male acquaintances in Memphis were lynched. Wells' investigated the lynchings and similar occurrences in the South and wrote about them in her paper. Wells rejected the claim of the apologists for lynching that the practice resulted from the rape of white women by black men. Wells wrote that lynching was instead a power move designed to keep African Americans in fear and servitude. But Southerners found particularly inflammatory Wells's findings that when sexual relationships between black men and white women occurred, these relationships tended to be clandestine, but consensual. She was forced to leave Memphis and lost all her property. Moving to New York City, Wells became both famous and notorious. She worked with Frederick Douglass in protesting the exclusion of African Americans from participation or recognition in the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair. She prepared a pamphlet for distribution during the Fair documenting the evils of lynching. She also made two trips to England where she was instrumental in organizing an anti-lynching society among the successors of the British abolitionist movement. Following the Worlds Fair, Wells remained in Chicago and married a successful attorney, Ferdinand Barnett, with whom she had four children. She remained politically active for the rest of her life, but her fame was eclipsed by Booker T. Washington and then by W.E.B. DuBois. Wells helped found the NAACP, but her abrasive, confrontational and independent personality, together with her gender, denied her a leadership role in this or other national civil rights organizations. But she continued her crusade against lynching and was an activist in protecting the rights of the many African Americans pouring into Chicago as part of the Great Migration. Bay offers a thorough and a sympathetic portrayal of Wells which draws on the autobiography and on Wells's other writings. Bay is good in showing Wells's relationships to other African American and feminist leaders, including Douglass, Washington, DuBois, and Susan B. Anthony, who counseled Wells against her marriage. Bay also writes with insight about how Wells's activist approach to African American rights was at odds with Booker T. Washington's accomodationist approach and with the subsequent approach of the NAACP which sought to vindicate African American civil rights through litigation and through legislation. Bay emphasizes, as she should, the role of gender in denying Wells a position of leadership within the African American community. But Bay's own text makes clear how tough and difficult Wells could be, even with her allies. Wells's own irascibility and temper seem at least as responsible for her independent status as was her gender. I learned a great deal about Wells from this book, but I sensed a fire in the woman which Bay does not entirely capture. The book is well-documented and footnoted but lacks a bibliography. On the whole, Bay's book is effective in telling the story of an inspiring American who deserves to be remembered and admired. Robin Friedman

  • What an Outstanding Book! We Loved It!
    From Amazon

    "The name Ida B. Wells should be interchangeable with the word `courage'. She took her fight for equal rights all the way to the Supreme Court of Tennessee where she lost. She worked for the rights for women, no matter what their color and her life's story should be required reading for everyone."

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