By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
“We die. That may be the meaning of life.
But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
–From Toni Morrison’s 1993 Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature
There is no shortage of books and other resources about African Americans who continue to use the power of the pen in their struggle to bring about a more just society. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, with public libraries and research centers closed to patrons, it is still possible to find many of the publications that inspire readers to think and act in ways that are in keeping with the tenets of democracy.
This is certainly true when it comes to books about Ida B. Wells Barnett and/or the causes for which she fought. The daughter of enslaved African Americans in Mississippi, Wells Barnett lived from 1862 to1931, surviving slavery, the Civil War, the overthrow of Reconstruction, and the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic that claimed the lives of several members of her family.
She went on to become a teacher, and by her own admission Wells Barnett was also a crusader for justice, whose investigative journalism revealed the sordid details about the history of lynching in America and challenged the injustices that allowed mob violence to continue.
In the wake of the April 2020 publication of the second edition of Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, a new generation of history teachers and students will, no doubt, become more familiar with her story. With the May 4, 2020 announcement of the posthumous Special Citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board for her journalism, Wells Barnett also joins the ranks of other African American recipients, including Ohio native Toni Morrison, the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction.
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