As Google has reminded many of you, today marks the birthday of civil rights pioneer, suffragette, anti-lynching activist, and sociologist Ida B. Wells. This remarkable woman participated in many crusades in the Progressive Era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
She also cuts a strong figure in the UIP catalog. In The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition, she joins Frederick Douglass, Irvine Garland Penn, and Ferdinand L. Barnett in critiquing the racism and denigration that went along with the too-appropriately-named White City. The eloquent statement of protest and pride reminds us that struggles over cultural representation are nothing new in American life.
John Hope Franklin and August Meier chose to include Wells in their classic book Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century alongside Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Mary McLeod Bethune. “The Lonely Warrior,” Thomas C. Holt’s chapter on Wells, remains must reading for anyone interested in Wells’s life and times.
In Dark Victorians, Vanessa D. Dickerson delves into travel narratives by Wells and other African Americans to illuminate the cross-cultural influences between white Britons and black Americans during the Victorian age. Black America’s romance with Victorian Britain and Britons’ knowledge of black Americans, Dickerson argues, was largely the result of travelers who crossed the Atlantic and then shared their experiences—often by publishing them in nonfictional or fictional forms—with their compatriots.