(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells is the inspiring story of an African American feminist and civil rights leader. She documents her individual struggles, her accomplishments, and her major activities to promote equality for women and African Americans. Born into slavery in 1862, she lived through the Reconstruction era after the U. S. Civil War, the battle for suffrage, World War I, and its aftermath. Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s reflections provide a critical review of American racial and sexual relations. She did not simply observe the American scene; she also altered it as a leader in the women’s movement and the African American Civil Rights movement.

The autobiography is especially important in documenting the widespread patterns of lynchings of African American men by white mobs. In protests and writings about these horrors, Wells-Barnett fought against any acceptance of these illegal and violent acts. She struggled with many people to have her radical and unflinching stands represented. Her struggles included arguments with other leaders such as the suffragist Susan B. Anthony, the civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois, and the African American leader Booker T. Washington. She presents her side of these differences in the autobiography, which reflects her occasional unwillingness to compromise and her hot temper.

Wells-Barnett published in formats such as small-circulation newspapers, pamphlets, and journals, so the autobiography is vital in providing obscure information about her life and ideas. She did not complete the autobiography, however, and her daughter Alfreda Duster helped fill in many missing pieces for the publication of the manuscript almost four decades after her mother’s death. In addition, Wells-Barnett lost many of her writings in two different fires, so her daughter did not have access to the full range of her mother’s publications and thoughts. As a result, major areas of Wells-Barnett’s life and ideas that are not covered or explained. Wells-Barnett’s life is remarkable in its courage and influence. She refused to be limited by her battles with personal poverty, sexism, and racism, and her valiant spirit is apparent in her life story.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Aptheker, Bettina. Introduction to Lynching and Rape: An Exchange of Views, by Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Occasional Papers Series 25. San Jose, Calif.: American Institute for Marxist Studies, 1977.

Wells-Barnett, Ida B. The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells. Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.