Ida B. Wells and Lessons to Learn from South Carolina

Dr. Paula Giddings discusses the South Carolina massacre, church burnings, Ferguson and more in the context of her work on the life and politics of Ida B. Wells.

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, IMIXWHATILIKE: What’s up world, and welcome to another edition of I Mix What I Like here at The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball in Baltimore.

Some twelve days after the massacre in South Carolina, and amidst reports of now six black churches burning in five southern U.S. states, and ongoing struggles over the Confederate flag, we continue here at The Real News to seek out added depth and perspective to many of the attendant histories evoked by it all.

To further help us towards that end is Prof. Paula Giddings. Giddings is a book editor, journalist, and professor of Africana studies, and author of several books including a brilliantly written history of Ida B. Wells, Ida: A Sword Among Lions. She joins us now from her office at Smith College. Greeting, Prof. Giddings, and thank you for joining us.

PROF. PAULA GIDDINGS: Hi Jared, how are you doing? Nice to be with you.

BALL: I’m as good as can be expected. We greatly appreciate you taking the time, here. I just wanted to ask you, in the aftermath of, as I said a moment ago, of what’s been going on in South Carolina we’ve now had the singing eulogy from President Obama, many responses from pundits and other spokespeople to talk about what’s going on down there. We’ve also in fact seen Bree Newsome in her act of pulling down the Confederate flag the other day on her own.

Given your understanding of Africana history and black history in this country, and the history of white supremacy, how are you interpreting all of this? And what would you like for us to consider as we take all this in?

GIDDINGS: Well, first of all this is, there’s no question, a historical moment. A potentially transformative moment. But lessons in history tell us that we have to mobilize now and take advantage of it before–and not to let it slip away.

You know, it reminds me a little bit after the, if you remember the, when the Montgomery bus boycott was successful. And everyone was exhausted and ready to rest for a while, and think about the next thing to do. And this is the very moment that Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin came down to Montgomery and said to Dr. King, no, this is not the time. I know you’re tired, but this is the time to really push forward.

I think about another similar moment with the lynching of a man by the name of Henry Smith in 1893 in Paris, Texas. And Ida B. Wells, the anti-lynching activist, knew that this was, this was also one of those kinds of moments. Because that lynching–there had been lynching certainly going on for the late, all throughout the–since the 1880s, particularly. But this was such a gruesome lynching that even whites and even lynching apologists were upset, because it just showed the lack of civility in the country. And she took that opportunity to not only continue her campaign in the U.S., Jared, but she took it to the United Kingdom. She took it and spoke in England and Scotland, and Great Britain, particularly in London, to mobilize a global kind of response.

And this is what also made me think about in a longer term what is needed. One of the–an op-ed by Morris Dees, who talked about this, the killing, the murders in Charleston as not just an isolated, local event. But this young man is a part of a global network around white nationalism. It’s no coincidence that he has, he had flags from Rhodesia and flags from South Africa. And so now is really time to think also of just how to meet a global, that kind of global movement with a global movement of our own.

BALL: You know, I know–and we’re going to ask our viewers here to check back with us, regularly of course, but for our specific piece that we’re going to have up next month with you paying tribute to Ida B. Wells and her 153rd birthday this year. But given your expertise around Wells and her work, and the kind of actions that Wells herself called for, I’m wondering what you think we could learn from her example as an activist as we look at our so-called leadership today and the sort of state or the disarray, as some of us might consider it, of the struggle more broadly speaking.

What can we take from the kinds of approaches that Ida B. Wells called for in her work and in her time as we look to build responses and a more appropriate movement to deal with what’s going on today?

GIDDINGS: Well, one of the things–and there’s so many. One of the things though that Wells understood more than I think a lot of her contemporaries is that not only about the global aspect of the movement, but as a part of that, even, of the kinds of economics that were driving, that was driving racism, that was driving lynching, that was driving racial violence. And this was important. One of the reasons why she went to Great Britain is because Great Britain was the biggest importer of American cotton, and of course–and had supported the South in the Civil War because of that.

So she understood these kinds of aspects that were going on in a time, in the late 19th century, that has a lot of resonances with our time in terms of how the economy is operating, in terms of new technological–a technological revolution that was going on in that time of great disparities of wealth. And so she understood that. And I think that’s important for us, and I know a lot of–important for us to also be able to–a lot of people know it, of course. But to articulate it as part of the narrative.

Places like Ferguson didn’t just spring up. Places like Ferguson were created out of all kinds of economic considerations, pro-growth, mainly, of people who wanted that community to be the kind of community that it is. If you look at all the economic interventions to make that community what it is, it’s quite–it’s quite extraordinary. Lots of districting, lots of zoning laws.

So inner cities and poor communities are constructions. And we really do have to think about, as many other people have talked about, how to really deconstruct it and get in there. Now, this is the, the next step. Now that I think consciousness is raised. I think there’s just wonderful things being done with Black Lives Matter and others. But now let’s get into the nitty-gritty and try to think about how to transform these communities.

BALL: Well, Prof. Giddings, thank you very much for helping us contextualize all of this in this segment of I Mix What I Like here at The Real News Network. We appreciate your time.

GIDDINGS: Thank you.

BALL: And thank you for joining us here at I Mix What I Like for The Real News Network. Keep it locked. And as Fred Hampton used to say, as we always say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.

End

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