115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Pressing for Truth: Ida B. Wells’ Crusade for Truth in the Press and Abroad

Veronica Freeman, University of Hawai'i, Manoa

In this essay I will demonstrate the effectiveness of Ida B. Wells’ collection, The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader, as a result of her ability to tap into the evolving American mindset, altering her rhetorical strategies as she moved throughout the United States and abroad. 

Proposal: 

Ida B. Wells’ collection of works, The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader, sheds light on the brutality of the lynchings that occurred in America from the 1880’s through the 1920’s. The press for Wells is the ultimate weapon against racial problems in America, she uses newspapers as a platform to not only express her arguments against lynching, but to lessen the racial divide from within the United States and moves abroad to further her campaign for the black press. In this essay I will argue for and demonstrate the effectiveness of Wells publication as a result of her ability to tap into the evolving American mindset, altering her rhetorical strategies as she moved throughout the United States and abroad. Wells not only saw sentimental discourse as a way to further her campaign against lynching law, she also chose to uncover the skewed reality of how lynchings were presented in newspapers across America. In creating a sentimental piece, Wells worked tirelessly to provide imagery that didn’t just tug at America's heartstrings, but seemed to create a space where Americans were faced with such vile accounts that they could not ignore their own deeds. The need to fight back against the negative portrayals of African Americans in white newspapers quickly spurred a response from citizens like Wells. By establishing newspapers that spoke to the other side of the African American story, the playing field began to be leveled. In 1893 Wells traveled abroad to Great Britain in order to continue her work against lynching in the United States. The call to the British people for assistance in the fight against lynching mobs in the United States came at a time when Wells felt as though the sympathy of American citizens was no longer working in the favor of the African American people. The strategies Wells chooses to utilize when appealing to Britain speak to the intelligence of Wells as well as her ability to understand how racism was controlled by economic powers. Wells affected more than the British perception of America by going abroad, she also reframed the African American in the mind of the American citizen.