Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement

Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement

Dennis Brindell Fradin, Judith Bloom Fradin
For ages 12 and up
Clarion, 2000   ISBN: 978-0395898987

There are very few Americans who have not heard of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois and the other men and women who played leading roles in the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There are, however, a great many people who have not heard of, or who know very little about, a small plump African American woman called Ida B. Wells. Long before Rosa Parks refused to be forced from her seat on a bus, Ida B. Wells refused to be removed from a train carriage. In fact she went so far as to sue the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad for discrimination - and she won her case.

Telling her story to her fellow African Americans started Ida down a long road in the field of journalism. For the rest of her life she would use her skill as a writer to fight for the rights of her people and to tell the world about how those rights were being abused.

A few years after the train carriage episode Ida’s life took a dramatic turn when one of her friends was cruelly lynched in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. His crime was being a more successful grocery businessman than his white competitor. There and then Ida declared war on lynchers and it was a cause which she would fight for for the rest of her life. Even when her own life was threatened and when she was forced to leave the south, Ida kept on writing her articles and agitating for laws outlawing lynching. First in New York City and then in Chicago, Ida worked hard to tell the world about this horrible “Lynch Law.”

As if this was not enough, Ida also worked for a woman’s right to vote, she helped found the NAACP, she created a center for homeless men in Chicago, and she gave succor to black soldiers during World War I. On top of this Ida raised six children, finding time to be a part of their lives.

Why is it that people know so little about this remarkable woman? Probably because Ida refused to play by the rules of the time. She was very outspoken, and in those days, when she was walking the streets and writing her articles, the black community felt that it was better to lie low and keep the peace. Ida did not believe in this at all. She was all in favor of making as much of a fuss as possible. Therefore her achievements did not find there way into the history books. She was considered to be a nuisance and people preferred to forget about her. Thankfully we have people like the authors of this excellent book who are willing to bring back her story so that we can all learn about this remarkable and courageous woman who was so much ahead of her time.

Written with great care and superbly researched, this biography tells the story not just of a woman, but also of a time when America was in great racial turmoil. It describes a period when African Americans had a terrible time trying to find the justice that they rightly expected to receive in their country.