Learning resistance and courage from Ida B. Wells

Religion News Service | 11/15/2019 | Staff
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(RNS) — My earliest act of resistance came when I was a teenager, when I was taken to the local doctor. He had a waiting room for black patients in a dimly lit hallway that was separate from the well-lit, comfortable room where his white customers waited. I would refuse to sit in the space assigned to us. There was something in my soul that made me choose standing to sitting. It was a quiet protest, but I knew what I was doing.

I may have been inspired by my mother and several other teachers in her small school in Wheatley, Arkansas, who were fired after the school was integrated because the white people preferred white teachers. My mother and that courageous group of middle-aged African American colleagues, having finally found their voices, sued the district. To their surprise, they won the lawsuit.

Mother - Resistance - Ida - B - Wells

Long before either my mother’s or my resistance, there was Ida B. Wells, the anti-lynching activist and fearless investigative journalist who is the subject of my latest book, written with Nibs Stroupe. In 1883, when Wells was still a public school teacher herself, she was thrown out of a Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad ladies car because she was not white, though she had the proper ticket for that car. She had the courage to sue the railroad. She won the lawsuit initially but lost on appeal.

The greatest gift that studying Wells has brought to my life is freedom from fear. The plague of the 21st century is fear. Of course, there are many of us who live each day as best we can as resisters to it, but the fear hill is steep, and many are slipping down it instead of scaling it.

Their - Names - Georgia - Lynched - Initiative

From 2016 to 2018, I led Calling Their Names: Remembering Georgia’s Lynched, an initiative of the Episcopal...
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