The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells: An Intimate Portrait of the Activist as a Young Woman

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Wells (1862-1931), an African American journalist who led an antilynching crusade in the 1890s, was born into slavery, orphaned at 16 and worked as a teacher to support her younger siblings. DeCosta-Willis (co-editor of Erotique Noire/Black Erotica) carefully reproduces here, with informed commentary, the diary Wells kept from 1885 to '87, when she lived in boardinghouses and taught school while struggling to get her articles published. The entries provide a unique look at the life of an independent, unmarried African American woman coping with financial hardships, romantic entanglements, sexism and racism. In 1885, Wells was awarded damages after she sued a railroad company because a conductor tried to force her to sit in the ``black only'' section; the decision was reversed in 1887, prompting her lament ``O God, is there no redress, no peace, no justice in this land for us?'' Also included are entries from her 1893 and 1930 diaries, as well as some of Wells's newspaper articles. A substantial contribution to African American studies. (Jan.)
Library Journal
DeCosta-Willis (African American studies, Univ. of Maryland-Baltimore County) has done a superb job of editing this remarkable document. Wells, the noted black journalist, author, and antilynching activist, kept a detailed personal diary while living in Memphis between 1885 and 1887. In it we see an articulate young woman coming to terms with her professional ambitions, her race, and her sexuality. Perhaps the most fascinating passages treat her relations with men and her often acerbic assessments of them. This volume also includes Wells's shorter 1893 travel diary and 1930 Chicago diary as well as selections from her published writing. A very important original source for anyone interested in African American and women's history.-Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, Ind.
Wells' diary, covering a two-year period beginning in 1885 when she was 24 years old, is a rare personal account of what daily life was like for a middle-class Black Victorian woman. Her journal depicts her progression from teaching to journalism and social activism and her search for a fulfilling and independent life. Her 1885-6 diary is interspersed with the editor's commentary and is followed by the 1893 travel diary, her 1930 Chicago diary, and six articles written between 1885-8. Contains a few pages of b&w period portraits. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Gilbert Taylor
This work pertains to three widely separated phases of Wells' life: 1885-87, when she was living in Memphis; 1893 notes of a seasick passage to England; and 1930, when she campaigned for Illinois state senator shortly before her death. Wells' confidential concerns in the Memphis passages reflect her drive for personal independence and professional status: she tarries with suitors, jots down writing ideas, shares them with black publishers, attends educational conventions, sues a railroad (unsuccessfully) for ejecting her from a segregated car, all on top of the pedestrian matters that appear in any diary journal. Expertly "contextualized," as the lingo goes, by a dedicated scholar of women's studies, Wells' journal will find support and circulation in large collections that also hold her autobiography, "Crusade for Justice" (1972).
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