Portrait of Ida B. Wells-Barnett
May 5 - June 18, 1997- 81 hours labor - Black Cherry, Walnut base - 16 x 8 x 9 in.
This wood carving of civil rights activist Ida B. Wells was inspired by a column by Ann Moss Betts in the April 27, 1997 Tennessean. The gist of the article was that there were people in many walks of life deserving of the honor of being commemorated by a statue but that most public sculpture in Nashville depicted either military heroes or politicians. She mentioned Ida B. Wells among several that she thought were deserving of such commemoration. I wrote her of my intention to make a portrait bust of Ida B. Wells. With her advice and with the additional help of Tennessean columnist Dwight Lewis, I was able to get my carving accepted and displayed by the National Civil Rights Museum, 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis, TN, 38103.
It was featured in the Third Quarter, 1998 issue of Precept & Example, a Journal of the National Civil Rights Museum.
The National Civil Rights Museum loaned my Ida B. Wells bust to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa to be included in an exhibition called "American Women!". This exhibition opened April 22 and closed October 29, 2000.
(1.) The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells - Edited by Miriam Decosta-Willis - Beacon Press, Boston - 1995
(2.) Crusade For Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells - Edited by Alfreda M. Duster - University of Chicago Press - 1970
(3.) Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the Antilynching Crusade - Suzanne Freedman - The Mill Brook Press, Brookfield, Connecticut - 1994
(4.) Ida B. Wells-Barnett: A Voice Against Violence - Patricia and Fredrick McKissack - Enslow Publishers, Hillside, NJ - 1991
(5.) We Are Your Sisters, Black Women in the Nineteenth Century - Edited by Dorothy Sterling - W. W. Norton & Company, New York - 1984, Reissued in a Norton paperback 1997
In the introduction of Crusade For Justice there is an excerpt from a chapter in The White Side of a Black Subject by Norman B. Wood. He was a half brother to my Great grandmother Belle Wood Tully. She was the source of my copy of his book, first published by Donohue, Henneberry & Company, Chicago, 1894.
His language and style are long out of date but I still think his words paint a better picture of the events that led to Ida B. Wells' national prominence than anything I might have distilled from other sources. Here is the full text he wrote about Ida B. Wells.
God has raised up a modern Deborah in the person of Miss Ida B. Wells, whose voice has been heard throughout England and the United States, wherever it was safe for her to go, pleading as only she can plead for justice and fair treatment be given her long-suffering and unhappy people.
She is now engaged in lecturing and organizing Anti-Lynching Leagues in many of the Northern cities.
We believe the same God who raised up Moses and Joshua to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, the same God who raised up Lincoln and Grant to "break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free," has raised up this courageous and eloquent young woman that in the language of the prophet, she might "cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions and their sins."
We believe that God delivered her from being lynched at Memphis, that by her portrayal of the burnings at Paris, Texas, Texarkana, Arkansas and elsewhere she might light a flame of righteous indignation in England and America which by God's grace, will never be extinguished until a Negro's life is as safe in Mississippi and Tennessee as in Massachusetts or Rhode Island.
Why did they destroy her press at Memphis? For the same reason that they destroyed Lovejoy's and Clay's; because she had the courage of her convictions and told the truth relative to a lynching that took place in Memphis at that time.
In March, 1892, the civilized world was shocked by the news of a massacre of the most revolting cruelty. Three young colored men, the best known and most popular in Memphis, were arrested and thrown in jail.
They had a prosperous grocery business, while that of a rival white grocer's declined. He was envious of the colored men, and his plotting culminated in him leading a party of roughs, some of whom had been appointed deputies, in a raid upon their grocery.
The colored men, not knowing there were any officers of the law in the attacking party, resisted from the inside of their building, and wounded two or three, but they were able to be upon the street within a week. Three nights after this a band of murderers went to the jail, took the colored men a few blocks and riddled them with bullets.
The world was horrified, but Memphis was complacent.
The murderers were well known, and it is said some of them were officers of the law. No rewards were offered, no steps taken to bring the guilty ones to justice.
Miss Well's paper was the only one in the city that was courageous enough to vindicate the victims and demand punishment of their murderers. For this her press was destroyed, her life threatened, and she banished from the city.
Here is a link to more information about Ida B. Wells.
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