Tag Archives: African-American History Month

Black History Month: Ida B. Wells-Barnett

“Go tell it on the mountain.” “Sermon on the Mount.” “Spreading the gospel.” “The good news.” These are not only common phrases for Christians, but also common phrases in American culture. The idea of sharing our story, our testimony, and what we believe in with others is an integral part of our American experience – particularly the Black American experience. We know that through telling our stories, we form shared beliefs and shared cultures.

Ida B. Wells circa 1895

Throughout Black history, there are many examples of powerful orators, storytellers, and visionaries. Ida B. Wells-Barnett was all three. As a writer, editor, and newswoman, Wells-Barnett not only broadcast the injustices of anti-Black lynching; but created numerous platforms to share the stories of others with the goal of achieving justice.

In addition to utilizing her Memphis based newspaper, the Memphis Free Speech, Well-Barnett traveled the country and Europe to make light of anti-Black lynching that ravaged the American South. Her advocacy did not go unnoticed. Threats of harm from white supremacist vigilantes kept the writer and editor from her home in Memphis, Tennessee in 1893. While away from home, the well-traveled orator had made it her business to share the injustice of lynching that occurred right in a suburb right outside of Memphis. Wells-Barnett chronicles her story in her 1893 speech, “Lynch law in all its phases,” delivered in Boston.

Well-Barnett traveled across the country and across the Atlantic with the goal of engaging others in a long-term campaign to eradicate lynching and all forms of anti-Black violence. She appealed to people of all identities and self-interests, including fellow Black people, international allies, and specifically Christians. In Wells-Barnett’s 1909 speech, “Mob Murder in a Christian Nation,” the orator appeals to not only the ideals espoused by our constitution, but also appeals to the Christians of our nation.

As one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909, An early advocate of the anti-lynching bill was Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Due to her indefatigable advocacy, a federal bill to make lynching a federal crime was introduced in 1918. Now after a century, the campaign to make lynching a federal crime is still an active struggle. Just last year, the three Black senators – two Democrats, one Republican – introduced legislation to make lynching a federal crime, a signature campaign of the NAACP since 1918. However, the bill was stalled by a lone senator.

While Well-Barnett died in 1930, the campaign to eradicate anti-Black violence continues – even the goal of outlawing lynching. And while lynchings do not occur in thousands as they did during the Wells-Barnett era, lynchings and anti-Black violence still occur. This is where we must take up the mantle in the twenty-first century. As Christians, we must spread the gospel of justice. Through our Congress, we have a unique opportunity to finally outlaw these barbaric, White supremacist practices; to honor the legacy of Black leaders and ancestors who came before us; and to earn the respect of future generations. Like Well-Barnett, we as Christians must utilize our own voices and our own platforms to inform, educate, and agitate others regarding the injustice we see and employ solutions to stop injustice.

A Benevolent and Equitable Future

African-American History Month, 2021

African-American History Month in the year 2021. Now is the time we’ve set aside to remember, and also to honor the stories of those who crossed the Middle Passage, to the Americas and their descendants. It is critically important to state that without free African labor, the wealth of the West simply would not exist. The standard of life we have today, is the result of their hard work. They built the roads, bridges, and the railroads for “nothing,” as James Baldwin said. This is the first African American History month in the Covid-19 Pandemic. One in which African-Americans have suffered disproportionally when compared with other groups, while simultaneously having less than equitable access and distribution of the life-saving vaccinations. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people, have succumbed to the disease.

This past summer we witnessed, organized and marched in large peaceful protests around the country. There was and still is, a national call for Justice. This was in response to a series of violent acts committed against African-Americans. We have watched the video recordings, and read the news media coverage, of preventable, racially motivated murders. Among them: Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey, and George Floyd; just to name a few. We remember the excruciatingly painful and traumatic, eight minutes 46 seconds (8:46) video, capturing the knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd. The video captures and manifests the often overlooked brutality forced upon us in our daily life, the callous indifference with which African-American, and other Peoples of Color are treated.

We most recently watched in awe an Insurrection at the US Capitol. Carried live on TV, and as we saw that crowd waving flags, and committing various other acts of sedition, take over the US Capitol, and steal from its grounds. With few arrested and charged from that group. We know justice is not blind. Evidenced by the leniency shown to them by friendly prosecutors, and courts. In my opinion a fair reading of our current situation implies that our story, as a People is unfolding, but not uncertain. We have a firm foundation in our faith. And, against all odds, we are compelled to hope. That hope is that one day soon, we will see injustices finally come to an end. The times now call upon us to write a new chapter. In this moment each one of us has a part to play, a say, a vote. With all urgency we must do everything humanly possible to facilitate justice equity, to build capacity, or even economies, if such actions will secure the creation of systems which treat all people, all African-Americans as full human beings. In this new environment healing, reconciliation, and rejuvenation might finally take place.

The most effective way in my view to celebrate African-American History Month is to occupy our time, by doing all we can to ensure a bright, benevolent and equitable future.