Basil Wiering Unit 4 Assignment 1

Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell were both influential thinkers, writers, and leaders of the civil rights movement. While they have much in common, there are a few notable differences, particularly in their backgrounds. MCT’s family was part of the elite black class of Memphis; Ida B. Wells was born into slavery before eventually being freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Both lived much of their early life in Memphis, though Wells moved following the mobbed destruction of her newspaper offices. Wells co-owned the local newspaper, focusing on racial inequality in her writings, which were nationally renowned. While Terrell was not officially a writer by trade, she wrote throughout her life, culminating in an autobiography. Terrell was one of the first African-American women to attend college and continued working in higher education, and education generally, for much of her life. She was a member on a number of boards, and founded several other organizations including the National Association of Colored Women and the National Association of College Women. Both women were religiously affiliated–Wells operated her newspaper out of a Baptist church, and Terrell’s work in education was often affiliated with the Methodist church. Both of the assigned readings, excerpts of Wells’ Southern Horrors and Terrell’s speech, “What It Means to be Colored in the Capital of the United States”, confront the plague of racial discrimination and prosecution. Terrell explains how the color of her skin affects her experience in DC, highlighting a uniform and institutional manifestation of racism, citing particular instances in business, schools, and public services. Wells focuses on the “unwritten law” of lynching, which is malicious and lawless. Both writings underscore the wide social acceptance of both the calculated coldness of institutions and the reckless hatred of the mobs, and call for society to remedy this position. The majority white United States was not hesitant to excuse the racist actions in either context–the discrimination found in stores was seen as the necessary reality, and lynching was argued as a defense of white women. This functions under the assumption that black men and communities are dangerous, unpredictable, and lawless, an assumption that in turn fuels its own dangerous and lawless behavior at the expense of thousands of lives.

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