Ida Taught Me

tags: racism, African American history, lynching, journalism

Koritha Mitchell, PhD (Koritha sounds like Aretha) is the author of the award-winning book Living with Lynching: African American Lynching Plays, Performance, and Citizenship, 1890 -1930 and editor of the Broadview Edition of Frances Harper's Iola Leroy. Her scholarly articles include "James Baldwin, Performance Theorist, Sings the Blues for Mister Charlie," which appears in American Quarterly, and "Love in Action," which draws parallels between racial violence at the last turn of the century and anti-LGBT violence today (published by Callaloo). Her book From Slave Cabins to the White House: Homemade Citizenship in African American Culture will be published in August 2020. Follow her on Twitter @ProfKori.

In May 2020, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for her investigations of lynchings. She had uncovered patterns that exposed the racist lies fueling the violence and protecting perpetrators from punishment. May 2020 also saw evidence of the vigilante murder of Ahmaud Arbery, calls for action regarding the March 13th execution of Breonna Taylor when police entered the wrong home, and the stabbing death of Nina Pop.

It felt like yet another American slap in the face to learn of this overwhelming brutality while celebrating an early civil rights crusader. As Nikole Hannah-Jones put it on Twitter, “A day after Ida B. Wells is awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her documentation of lynching, some 90 years after her death, we see the wrenching evidence of the ongoing legacy of the extrajudicial killing of black ‘citizens.'”

If so little has changed, if African American deaths are justifiably being called lynchings, was Wells’s work less effective than suggested by this prestigious (though posthumous) recognition???

Even if not uttered aloud, a question hovering over America’s past and present is: What’s the use, if it doesn’t convince whites to stop the violence?

As I have argued about the years 1890 to 1930, “African American communities did not just need those who would work to gain whites’ empathy; they also needed individuals who could provide tools for surviving. In other words, it is important to consider the strategies used in the fight to end mob violence, but we should also ask, How did Blacks help each other cope while lynching remained a reality? Yes, they hoped there was a ‘brighter coming day,’ but what were they planning to do in the meantime?”

Read entire article at Black Perspectives

comments powered by Disqus