Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930

Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930

Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930

Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930

Synopsis

Pioneering African American journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) is widely remembered for her courageous antilynching crusade in the 1890s; the full range of her struggles against injustice is not as well known. With this book, Patricia Schechter restores Wells-Barnett to her central, if embattled, place in the early reform movements for civil rights, women's suffrage, and Progressivism in the United States and abroad. Schechter's comprehensive treatment makes vivid the scope of Wells-Barnett's contributions and examines why the political philosophy and leadership of this extraordinary activist eventually became marginalized.

Though forced into the shadow of black male leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and misunderstood and then ignored by white women reformers such as Frances E. Willard and Jane Addams, Wells-Barnett nevertheless successfully enacted a religiously inspired, female-centered, and intensely political vision of social betterment and empowerment forAfrican American communities throughout her adult years. By analyzing her ideas and activism in fresh sharpness and detail, Schechter exposes the promise and limits of social change by and for black women during an especially violent yet hopeful era in U.S. history.

Excerpt

A book about a well-known person raises certain expectations in readers, and a word is in order about what this book is and is not. It is not a definitive biography of Ida B. Wells-Barnett. There is, to my knowledge, one biography already published and at least one more on the way. My interest is primarily in Wells-Barnett's ideas and in her social activism. My goal is to present both in as rich an historical context as possible in order to understand more fully the history of women, racism, and reform in the United States. The many interpretive puzzles and mysteries of Wells-Barnett's life will continue to provoke historians for a long time, and I look forward to reading the work of others whose treatments are sure to follow, and perhaps dispute, mine.

This book cuts against what by now is an old saw in feminist writing about women: that the private and public aspects of life are intimately connected and shape each other. In Wells-Barnett's case, however, intimate matters—the deeper recesses of her religious faith, her feelings for her husband and children, her relationship with her parents and siblings, her friendships—are almost absent from the historical record, and for good reason. As historian Darlene Clark Hine reminds us, the African American women of Wells-Barnett's generation were very circumspect, secretive even, about expressing their personal feelings. Black women lived in an extremely hostile world, and any information disclosed to the wrong hands, even something as simple as marital status, could be and was used against them. In such a context, African American women . . .

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