Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ida B. Wells Lectures: Successful Campaign?

Paula Giddings was an articulate and charismatic speaker whose lecture appealed to all ages. From her lecture, I learned how influential Memphis was to Ida B. Wells’ life. What I did not realize was that most of her achievements were achieved in accordance with other groups. Men and progressive Whites helped her achieve her success. What I also learned from Giddings was that Wells wanted to reinterpret this criminal stereotype of Memphis. Wells was significantly influenced by her friend, Thomas Moss, who was lynched for simply owning a grocery store. This spurred on her anti-lynching campaign and she was the first person to even call for an anti lynching federal law. What astounded me was her list of accomplishments. Her list alone is impressive, but when we realize the odds she had to face for being both Black and a woman, her list of accomplishments become astounding. I did not quite understand the magnitude of accomplishment Wells obtained during her lifetime until Paula Giddings spoke. Although she did not live in Memphis long, the impact Memphis had on her life is clearly revealed through her life’s work.
The second lecture called “Lynch and Spectacle: Ida B. Wells, Anti-Lynching Activism and the Use of Photography as Testimony,” was a portrayal of lynching through pictures. What I did not realize was that at first was that while many saw lynching as a repugnant act, they also saw it as a justifiable act for crime control. What astonished me was that even Ida B. Wells believed this. However, there was a significant shift at how lynching was viewed, when race became a key component in it. In Professor Amy Wood’s lecture, she emphasized the impact the photos of lynchings did to the community. It was extremely interesting to me that Ida B. Wells pioneered the use of images in her pamphlet, “The Red Record.” She used the images to stimulate public outrage and to reveal the truth behind the reasons of lynching: it was a form of racial control. The images thus, acted as verification and penetrated the public ignorance surrounding those abhorrent acts. One of her final points that I found most interesting was that these images allowed White Americans to denounce the act of lynchings in the 1930s without actually denouncing segregation. Therefore, it seems as though Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign was successful in awakening the public to the wrongs of vigilante justice. However, I question whether it was successful in pushing Americans away from segregation.


  1. I also went to Paula Giddings' lecture, and I found it extremely informative as well as inspiring. I did not know before, the amount of responsibility Wells' had to take on at such a young age due to her parents' deaths as well as her immense skill as an investigative journalist. Giddings' words really opened my eyes too the immense strength and determination Wells' put forth in efforts to stop lynching.
    I did not get to attend the second lecture on "Lynch and Spectacle: Ida B. Wells, Anti-Lynching Activism and the Use of Photography as Testimony," but I think that the use of pictures would greatly assist in displaying the brutality of lynching. It is one thing to read about an atrocious or tragic event, but seeing the brutality of one captured in a single frame can evoke much more emotion in a person. Thus I think it was a smart tactic for Wells' to put pictures in her pamphlet. It is much harder to ignore a problem when it is almost impossible to desensitize the event--a picture has this type of power and Wells' used it to widely convey her anti-lynching platform.

  2. I agree with your conclusion that Wells' most profound influence was on the exact topic of her campaign: Lynching. While she helped reduce lynching numbers greatly during the span of her published works, she most likely did not scratch the surface of deep racial stereotypes/segregation in the South. I believe your final question is certainly valid-Socially, I do not believe that Wells made much of a dent on the stereotypes many whites still hold in the South today. Now, that is not to say that she did not effectively refute those stereotypes in the clearest way possible in “Southern Horrors and Other Writings.” Scholars and students should and will continue use her pamphlets as a detailed and pointed historical record.