To Keep the Waters Troubled: The Life of Ida B. Wells

Synopsis

In the generation that followed Frederick Douglass, no African American was more prominent, or more outspoken, than Ida B. Wells. Her crusade against lynching in the 1890s made her famous, or notorious, across America, and she was seriously considered as a rival to W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington for race leadership. This book is the first full biography of Wells, a passionate crusader for black people and women--and one who was sometimes torn by her conflicting loyalties to race and gender. Wells' career began amidst controversy when she sued a Tennessee railroad company for ousting her from a first class car, a legal battle which launched her lifelong committment to journalism and activism. In the 1890s, Wells focused her eloquence on the horrors of lynching, exposing it as a widespread form of racial terrorism. Backing strong words with strong actions, she lectured in the States and abroad, arranged legal representation for black prisoners, hired investigators, founded antilynching leagues, sought recourse from Congress, and more. Wells was an equally forceful advocate for women's rights, but parted ways with feminist allies who would subordinate racial justice to their cause. She perpetually walked a tightrope between being an agitator and behaving like a "lady"--a designation prized by black women too often denigrated and exploited by white men. Using diary entries, letters, and published writings, McMurry illuminates Wells's fiery personality, and the uncompromising approach that sometimes lost her friendships even as it won great victories. To Keep the Waters Troubled is an unforgettable account of a remarkable woman and the and the times she helped to change.