“Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice”: Guest Speaker, Film at ECC

Sara Ireland, Staff Writer

   On March 7, the date the march from Selma to Montgomery began in 1965, the ECC Film and Lecture Series held a screening of the short documentary film “Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice”. The keynote speaker for this event, Linda Lockhart, paired with the screening in ways that I found to be unanticipated and uniquely refreshing. I purposely went into this event knowing nothing of Linda and knowing that I would dive deeper after the program.  LOCKHART

   She began her engagement speaking about her younger years and her awareness of race issues. Linda was 11 years old when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and a high school sophomore when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. By then, she was “paying more attention to the racial issues in the south.” Somewhere along the line, she “came to know of the lynching of Emmett Till.” By show of hands, the audience was an even split on those who had known of him and those who had not.
  Linda went on to describe the lynching of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy brutally murdered by white men in Mississippi, in the summer of 1955. This was two years before my mother was born. My father was six. I realized how truly not so far in the past this was; along with so much more injustices, some described by Linda as “the attacks on black children by white policemen who sprayed them with fire hoses, beat them with nightsticks and charged at them with attack dogs in the spring of 1963. Black children, about [her] age, maybe a little older were being assaulted in these violent ways by white men in authority because they were challenging the segregated system that would not let them shop or eat or receive almost any kind of service equal to a white person.”

   She went on to describe how the St. Louis that she grew up in did not experience these issues, did not have the segregated drinking fountains of the south. She learned about many issues in the south through magazines found in the local beauty shop; this is where she first saw Emmett Till’s face. These magazines were “the staple of black households and carried stories about what was happening in the south. They brought us news about our people, by our people.”

   Linda continued speaking about the impact of journalism in exposing racial injustice; “black folks had known this for a long time, since the days of Ida B. Wells, in fact. White folks were finally getting a chance to see it on their own TV sets, and in the highly respected national publications.” There was a vast difference between publications that sought to tell the whole story, versus the statements issued by police and the like.

   Linda spoke about the importance of objectivity in journalism; “we strive to offer the various sides of any given story and hopefully the readers, the listeners, the viewers, can make up your own minds for yourselves.” This is evident and plainly present in her own writing with NPR/St. Louis Public Radio. Her pieces are objective, and she allows those interviewed to speak their truths in ways that the audience can make their own inferences from without slant. Many journalists these days tell the audience how to feel, if not directly then at least by inserting their own experiences and opinions. In Linda’s writing, I have found none of that. The tone of professionalism in her writing is matched equally in her speech.

    According to Linda, “in some ways, journalism picked [her].” A solid B, B+ student, she just assumed she’d become a teacher like so many relatives before her; however, this idea didn’t interest her. She didn’t think she had much choice with the expense of the larger colleges. Her “mother saw an article in the Post-Dispatch about a high school senior who had just received a full-ride, four-year scholarship to Mizzou to attend the Journalism School and then return to work at the Post-Dispatch as a reporter after graduation.” That scholarship was for a black student; in fact, it was established specifically for black students. Her mother said, “You’re going to get this next year.” Sure enough, she did.

    Linda speaks of her grandchildren, Avery, age 6, who wants to go to Mars, and Leo, age 2,  who believes that Pluto is still a planet. This resonated with me as a mother, a college student, who happened to be sitting in the audience with my own nine-year-old daughter; who happened to be taking her own notes as Linda spoke, focused on every word with rapt attention beyond her age. As Linda spoke about Trayvon Martin and drew clear parallels to Emmett Till, that attention locked down fully. I could almost see the questions spiraling around in her little mind.
  Linda went on to pose some rhetorical questions; “Why does this gap between white children and children of color exist in 2019?” “Because all come from broken or dysfunctional homes?” Of course not. “The gap exists because too many families and educators have given up and don’t bother to try. There are children and families who do not have those high hopes and dreams of high achievement; but there are many who do have high hopes and dreams and have much of what they need to reach those goals.” Unfortunately, deliberate and accidental roadblocks are placed by even “the most well-meaning people”. 

    Equal opportunities, not judgement or assumptions, are integral to closing the gap. In her research of the area surrounding Union, Linda found the district to be overwhelmingly white. Linda calls to us to care about these issues of injustice as Americans, per the Declaration of Independence, that all men and women are created equal. Among these rights, of course, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This pursuit, as it relates specifically to journalism and issues of race, ties back perfectly to Ida B. Wells.
  A Passion for Justice is a short documentary film about the life and experiences of journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells. Born into slavery in Mississippi on July 16, 1862, Ida B. Wells was freed from slavery shortly after her birth by the Emancipation Proclamation, but unfortunately lost both of her parents, along with her baby brother, to yellow fever at the age of 16. This left Wells tasked with the responsibility of working to support her remaining younger siblings. To do so, she moved with some of her siblings to Memphis and became a teacher. She soon worked her way to be co-owner of the “Memphis Free Speech and Headlight” newspaper.

  Wells wrote often about the issues of racial segregation and the inequality between races as a journalist to bring more attention to them. Wells most famously wrote about lynching in her indictment “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases.” Wells exposed the barbaric nature of the white men who lynched black citizens and turned the lens of inhumanity into a mirror for white citizens. This was very ill received and resulted in a slew of threats against Wells’ life. 

   Due to these threats, Wells left Memphis and traveled even further north to Chicago. She married and had a family of her own, six children in total, all the while continuing her work with the women’s movement and civil rights. Wells began writing her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, but never finished the book. It was posthumously edited by her daughter, Alfreda, and published in 1970 under the title “Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells.” Wells died in Chicago March 25, 1931 at the age of 68. Her body was interred at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.

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