Blame Black Women: Ida B. Wells and the Challenges of Early Black Feminists

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“Of course as a young, inexperienced girl who had never had a beau, too young to have been out in company except at children’s parties, I knew nothing whatever of the world’s ways of looking at things and never dreamed that the community would not understand why I didn’t want our children separated. But someone said that I had been downtown inquiring for Dr. Gray shortly after I had come from the country. They heard him tell me to tell my sister he would get the money, meaning my father’s money, and bring it to us that night. It was easy for that type of mind to deduce and spread the rumor that already, as young as I was, I had been heard asking white men for money and that was the reason I wanted to live there by myself with the children. I am quite sure that I never in all my life have I suffered such a shock as when I heard this misconstruction that had been placed upon my determination to keep my brothers and sisters together.”

Let me put that in context for you: Ida B. Wells was born in 1862. Though born into slavery, she was born in a hopeful generation that believed that educating their children was one way that African Americans could fully participate in America’s democracy. After all, even in its formation, the Constitution only guaranteed voting rights for landholding, literate males. After the Compromise of 1877, a year before the Yellow Fever epidemic began ravaging Holly Springs, Black Americans in the South faced lost rights through extra-legal night riders, legislative retrenchment, and an economic system that resembled the old European feudalistic one. Of course, Black people, having tasted a freedom that they’d prayed and fought for, rebelled.

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LaToya R Jefferson-James

LaToya R Jefferson-James

LaToya Jefferson-James has a Ph.D. in literature. Welcome! The professor is in! Come in and stay a spell. Let’s discuss and learn from one another.