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Source Evaluation: Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

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The author of this week’s source is Ida B. Wells, found in DuBois and Dumenil’s Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. From her writing, Wells was careful to outline her motivation for the study she set out to do and her findings. She talked about the situation at the time and the injustices propagated against black men, all throughout the South. Readers are able to draw a clear picture of her journey with her campaign. This in itself goes to show that the target of her work is an audience rather than herself. She intended that her work reach a large audience in order to cultivate her values in a large number of people. Her objective was to do an exposé on the wrongly justified lynching of black men. Wells recalled the killing of three black men that was her motivation to set out on her campaign (DuBois and Dumenil 2008, p. 354). It could be that she wrote about the incident a few years after it ensued, considering the time it took her to conduct studies on other similar lynching.

Wells wrote on the lynching and her undertakings against these injustices as a way to tell the world about a flawed system. Her autobiography talks about her findings. In addition, she mentioned the places where she received an invitation to give speeches on the killings. At the end of the writing, she stated that the attention her work received locally was only the beginning of her journey towards letting the world know about the lynching (DuBois and Dumenil 2008, p. 357). Therefore, her source targeted the public and the entire world as an audience.

Wells’ work dwells on the inequality between the races and unfair treatment of the blacks. From her writing, readers can discern fundamental issues such as the unfair lynching following the abolition of slavery as a way to put the blacks down. The intention behind lynching black men for rape, according to her, was covering up the existence of relations between white women and blacks, where both parties were willing (DuBois and Dumenil 2008, p. 355). This, Wells pointed out, was unfair because there was no justice system against white men who had relations with black women, some of which were forceful. In addition, Wells articulated, the lynching was there to portray black men as monsters, attacking white women predominantly, to the world (DuBois and Dumenil 2008, p. 356). This happened each time such relations were uncovered, even in instances where white women were willing participants. The author’s main concern was the fact that there were double standards for men, depending on the race. Secondly, she was worried that the lynching of black men occurred for all the wrong reasons, for example to attack the masculinity of the black men emancipated from slavery.

Wells sought to inform the world of the injustices against black men. She felt that by writing this autobiography she could get the world to see the lynching for what it really was: some form of vendetta against blacks for the abolition of slavery. By the time she wrote this, there were those in her audience that shared her values and knew about the unjust lynching. On the other hand, part of the world may have held different opinions, believing in the fairness of systems put in place against alleged black rapists. Studying her autobiography reveals her intention to create some form of unity against the prejudice and invite the world to fight against it. Wells talks of considering it her ‘stern duty’ to report her findings to the world (DuBois and Dumenil 2008, p. 356).

In the contemporary society, the justice systems are more elaborate, where in most instances one receives punishment for crimes like rape only after trial and a guilty verdict. In addition, it is nowadays a rare occurrence to encounter white communities entirely prejudiced against black men. In short, the modern reader exists in a civilization that honors the values of justice and equality. It is with this in mind that one is able to appreciate the limitations of the modern readers in understanding the situation in the past, where unjust lynching was rampant and prejudice against the black population was the norm.

The stories of unfair and unjust lynching, inequality between the races and the overall injustice against the black race come out clearly in Wells’ work. As one studies the contents of history textbooks, the relationship between Wells’ autobiography and the readings in the textbook becomes visible. In the textbook, the period following the abolition of slavery was marked with unfair treatment of blacks. The same picture emerges as one reads Wells’ writing. Therefore, the autobiography of Ida Wells acts as a confirmation of the works of the authors of the history textbook.

 

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