Notes: 'Crusade for Justice'

Ida B. Wells' recently released autobiography

In Ida B. Wells' re-released autobiography, Crusade for Justice, I learned about how integral she was to shedding light on the numerous lynchings occurring in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

In summary, she was a force of nature. She was an incredibly relentless and humble woman who penned powerful words. I knew very little of her historical impact before reading this. I now know much more, and even better, through her own biting words. I also appreciated the intro and afterword on her descendants and how much pride they have to continue and honor her work.

Below are a few notes and reflections on the book.

Early life

She was the primary caretaker of her 4-5 siblings as the oldest child at age 16 when her parents and another sibling (?) died of yellow fever. Other older relatives or neighbors offered to help take over individual children to care for them, but she was adamant in keeping all her siblings together and carrying the torch. And she did.

To earn money quickly, she became a teacher, but of course funding for majority (or all?) Black schools was poor. She stuck it out for awhile, but her true calling was actually in journalism and writing. On the side she would report on important matters in local papers, often challenging the paper editors on racial injustice matters, and eventually she got enough attention to land her a full-time, well-paid job to write. She was overjoyed to get paid to do what she considered a hobby she loved.

Writing about lynchings

As Ida began reporting more on lynchings, she was even invited to speak more broadly on this matter in Europe. She partnered with the Society of Friends (Quakers), specifically a accompanied by a couple of prominent white women leaders in their group (I don't remember their names), to tour around parts of Europe (especially the UK, our former colonizer) to raise awareness of U.S. lynchings and garner support to help stop it.

Connecting with Frederick and Helen Pitts Douglass

Ida got to know Frederick Douglass and his second wife, a white woman named Helen Pitts Douglass, the latter who ended up a widow.

His first wife, Anna Murray Douglass, was a Black woman, and they were together for decades until her death. Helen and Frederick married some years after that death, and Ida speaks fondly of Helen as a devoted and supporting wife, and Frederick as well as a husband. They were of course an unusual couple for the time (biracial), and Ida reflects on prejudice even from other Black women who discredited and shamed Helen – one Black woman guest snidely remarked to Helen, thanking her for showing Anna's home (post-Frederick's death). Very unfortunate, though understandable...

Prejudice between Black and white people

These prejudices between Black and white people, men and women, come from a complicated background of course from the recently abolished chattel slavery of Black people by white people, and the continued discrimination and racial trauma placed upon Black people – namely, in this autobiography, lynchings. Many of the lynchings resulted from Black men being accused of raping white women, when in fact many of those relationships were consensual in some fashion. The accusations came about when white men (often the white women's lovers of some sort) found out about the interracial relationships, or white women became pregnant and gave birth to a darker-skinned baby and wanted to save face by crying rape.