Ida B. Wells

29103662_10215694491986256_3421248846368342016_oIda B. Wells was an investigative journalist who took on the ingrained and institutionalized racism of the late-1800s and early-1900s in the US. The The New York Times recently published a profile of her in the form of an obituary. It vividly tells her story, so I will quote from it here:

“It was not all that unusual when, in 1892, a mob dragged Thomas Moss out of a Memphis jail in his pajamas and shot him to death over a feud that began with a game of marbles. But his lynching changed history because of its effect on one of the nation’s most influential journalists, who was also the godmother of his first child: Ida B. Wells.

“’It is with no pleasure that I have dipped my hands in the corruption here exposed,’ Wells wrote in 1892 in the introduction to “Southern Horrors,” one of her seminal works about lynching, ‘Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.’

“Wells is considered by historians to have been the most famous black woman in the United States during her lifetime, even as she was dogged by prejudice, a disease infecting Americans from coast to coast.

“She pioneered reporting techniques that remain central tenets of modern journalism. And as a former slave who stood less than five feet tall, she took on structural racism more than half a century before her strategies were repurposed, often without crediting her, during the 1960s civil rights movement.

“Wells was already a 30-year-old newspaper editor living in Memphis when she began her anti-lynching campaign, the work for which she is most famous. After Moss was killed, she set out on a reporting mission, crisscrossing the South over several months as she conducted eyewitness interviews and dug up records on dozens of similar cases.

“Her goal was to question a stereotype that was often used to justify lynchings — that black men were rapists. Instead, she found that in two-thirds of mob murders, rape was never an accusation. And she often found evidence of what had actually been a consensual interracial relationship.

“She published her findings in a series of fiery editorials in the newspaper she co-owned and edited, The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. The public, it turned out, was starved for her stories and devoured them voraciously. The Journalist, a mainstream trade publication that covered the media, named her “The Princess of the Press.”

“Readers of her work were drawn in by her fine-tooth reporting methods and language that, even by today’s standards, was aberrantly bold.”

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