Monday, December 3, 2012

Paula Giddings' Lecture on Ida B. Wells

At the beginning of Paula Giddings' lecture, she blatantly and passionately declared Ida B. Wells to be the most deserving and impressive Memphian in the history of city. Giddings supported her declaration by sharing Ida B. Wells’s remarkable history, as well as a vast list of her accomplishments with audience members. Giddings talked about how Wells had to take charge of her brothers and sisters at a very young age after both of her parents died—displaying the responsibility and drive that Wells had to cultivate at a young age in order for her and her siblings to survive. At eighteen, Wells moved to Memphis where she began teaching and quickly became an integral part of the Memphis community. But it wasn’t until Wells began writing and speaking out against lynching that she went from being locally known to nationally known. It was after the lynching of her friend Thomas Moss that she began to see the undoubted racism, hatred, and prejudice that was taking place in every lynching—thus she decided to take a stand. At this time most African American men were lynched on the justification that they were “raping” white women. Wells was not convinced of these “rape” allegations; so, she began to investigate. Ultimately she found that a large percentage of the males being lynched for “rape” were actually in consensual relationships with white women. Wells wrote about the falsity of the charges forced onto black males and ultimately instructed African Americans to buy a gun for purposes of their own self-defense. Wells also instructed people to leave the south and move to the north or the west in hopes of obtaining actual freedom. After Wells’s instructions, twenty percent of the African American population left Memphis—displaying her influence and importance within the African American community. Giddings also discussed the lawsuit Wells filed against a train company who continued to implement segregation after it was ruled illegal, in addition to touching on many of Wells’s other accomplishments.
 Ultimately what stood out to me the most was one of Wells’s quotes in which she said, “race is more sinned against than sinning.” Well’s quote embodies the African American’s struggle throughout history to be considered an equal part of society. During Wells’s time there were scientific and social studies supporting the idea that African Americans were an inferior race.  In addition to racist scientific and social studies, African Americans were charged with crimes they did not commit, they were terrorized by racist members of society, and threatened by the white shadow of the KKK. Racism spread like wild fire and Memphis, as well as the country as a whole, needed leaders like Ida B. Wells to bring some type of sense to the incredulous acts taking place across the country. Wells had a huge impact during her time, and even more so now. She brought as much justice to the African American population as she could. Wells prompted a form of justice by writing about the atrocious events taking place all across the country. Ultimately Wells wrote to notify people then, and to remind people now of the horrors of lynching and of racial violence. 


  1. Memphis not only needed leaders like Ida B. Wells but the city is what affected Well's goals the most. The lynching of her friends in Memphis is what really instigated her international anti lynching campaign. It was this story, just like many other stories, that so clearly showed the unjust acts of the lynchers. Simple shop owners were lynched for making money. In this way, Wells was able to spread her message. Although Memphis was the city that helped form her notions of anti lynching, it was Memphis that basically kicked her out. The city was definitely a turning point in Well's life.

  2. I too attended the lecture and to me what stuck out most was how passionate Professor Owens was when Describing Wells. It was as if she were a personal friend who was standing with her throughout her journey. This can be attributed to the personification that wells boasted in her writing. Every moment of every event was described with pinpoint precision. Her persona almost seemed super human because of the situations that she constantly put herself in. However, because of her background we see that she was hardened by her past. Memphis was the perfect place for her to make her legacy and is a shame that she was exiled from the place that she worked so hard to change.