Ida B. Wells was born into slavery on July 16, 1862. She was “freed” by presidential proclamation and executive order (the Emancipation Proclamation) issued by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862, during the American Civil War.
Ida B. Wells became a journalist, and her most famous writing is in her pamphlet, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law and All Its Phases. Wells was the first person to extensively document lynchings, and dispelled the myth that lynchings were reserved for Black “criminals.” Wells exposed lynching as a practice of white men, often inspired by the siren song of white women, to intimidate and oppress Black Americans who created economic and political competition for whites. Think the destruction of the Black Wall Street in 1923, and the mass murder of its Black residents.
Wells’ work is noteworthy for its real-time reporting on the “incendiary propaganda about Black rape that was used to justify the practice” of lynching.
If the Black Church had saints, then Ida B. Wells would be part of that celestial lineup.
In my collection of poetry, The Black Feminine Mystique, there is a poem, one of my Almost Sonnets, dedicated to Ida B. Wels, entitled “Strange Fruit.”
She waged a just war against White knights,
This patron saint of the anti‑lynching crusade.
She wielded her pen like a crusader her sword,
Exposed emasculators who’d reduced Black men
To icons to be destroyed.
Self-proclaimed Christians hell‑bent on destroying this African Priapus,
This ancient Black God who made them feel inadequate.
They castrated him and crucified him on a tree,
Commemorated this day as The Day of the Rope.
She was Isis reincarnated, the devoted sister‑wife‑mother.
She attacked with the relentlessness of a warrior‑goddess,
Revealed that mostly innocent Black men
Were victims of this strange justice.
If slavery is America’s original sin,
Then America’s Eve falsely accused the snake of seduction.
She told this story again and again, until the myth had become a reality
In the popular White imagination.
This Women’s History Month, all women, but especially white women, should read Ida B. Wells’ Southern Horrors: Lynch Law and all its Phases.