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.
Terrell appears to be associated with the Methodist church and to be of a religiously conservative background. She refers to a kind of exclusionary violence: the violence of Jim Crow. “As a colored woman I may enter more than one white church
in Washington without receiving that welcome which as a human being I have a right”, “Unless I am willing to engage in a few menial occupations… there is no
way for me to earn an honest living”. All these refer to a kind of blindness, or refusal to acknowledge black people, in particular women, as human beings who are entitled to their rights as such. Moreover, Terrell understands the lack of hope in education that so many black youths have. To her, this is the greatest impediment second only to the outright oppression of Jim Crow. Perhaps she hints that reforming this attitude is a solution to their situation. As for Ida B. Wells, there appears to be a religious rooting for her belief in equal rights as well and, as seen after doing some cursory research, she became a writer and editor for the black-owned newspaper The Free Speech and Headlight, which was based out of a Baptist church. The violence Ida B. Wells confronts is the violence of lynching, which is responsible for the “inhuman butchery of more than ten thousand men, women, and children by shooting, drowning, hanging, and burning them alive”. This is a much more tangible violence, perhaps. A violence which is easily quantified and impossible for any person with a semblance of moral consciousness to ignore. Moreover, this lynching finds its so-called ‘justification’ in the necessity “to prevent crimes against women.” Of course, this means only white women and it entails a demonization of black men as a result. Wells also asserts that “The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes”, pointing at the hypocrisy and fallacious justification for this heinous crime. Wells also seems pessimistic about the situation, stating that “there has been no single effort… to put a stop to this wholesale slaughter… the silence and seeming condonation grow more marked as the years go by.” Overall, she urges for repeated exposure of these crimes by the press in order to make lynching a reality that cannot be ignored.
One idea I struggled with from Thursday’s panel was with how translation can be a creative art; they are not solely prescribing word for word an author’s original meaning but instead most translators are trying to stick with what the author intended to write. This is the idea of pure language and the intentional meaning of an author. I thought this was a little bit confusing since technically both versions could be deemed as true — in this sense a word for word translation is correct because those were the authors’ original words, but also this interpretive translation is accurate because that’s closer to what the author actually means when they write these specific words. Furthermore, can there ever be an ‘accurate’ translation? One thing that I hadn’t even considered was how each word has many different translations / options that are all technically a ‘correct’ translation. This is what leads to this idea of translation being an interpretive and creative art. When doing a translation, the person needs to take into consideration the direct translation of a world, as well as what the author intended to say, which gives translators an immense amount of power and imagination about original intent. This power within the interpretation of a text ties back with the politics of transition and the authority of those who get to control the narrative. Literature, and therefore translations have an extremely important influence on the very grains of society and people’s thoughts and opinions. So, the people who translate these texts are also influential. This goes back to the question: who controls the narrative? Even if a text is written by someone on the margins of society, or even a different culture, the narrative can still be controlled by these western influences and power dynamics, which can change the very meaning of the original text. However, there is hope in the realm of translation because there are many different translations, so the original meaning can be upheld.
7. It is to the general will that the individual must address himself to learn how to be a man, citizen, subject, father, child, and when it is suitable to live or to die. It fixes the limits on all duties. You have the most sacred natural right to everything that is not disputed by the rest of the species. The general will enlightens you on the nature of your thoughts and your desires. Everything that you conceive, everything that you meditate upon will be good, grand, elevated, sublime, if it is in the general and common interest…. Tell yourself often: I am a man, and I have no other true, inalienable natural rights than those of humanity. (7th proposition)
I had to read through this passage several times to understand this passage as a whole. After reading the passage multiple times on my own and discussing it with other Humesters, I came to the conclusion that the big idea of this passage emphasizes the importance of working together as one cohesive group to better humanity. It’s not only everyone’s right, but everyone’s duty to share any positive contributions to society “if it is in the general and common interest.” The ability to freely share ideas is essential to push humanity forward. This passage made me think about our class discussion about the hypocrisy in these passages. The point that Prof. Quillen brought up about analyzing how some of our Founding Fathers were able to speak of freedom while simultaneously owning humans as property is fascinating to me. In this excerpt defining “natural law,” Diderot doesn’t address women and uses words such as, “man” and “father.” Often times, the word “man” has several meanings, so it can usually be inferred that the author is referring to the human race. However, Diderot uses the word “father,” which changes the meaning of the word “man.” I feel like that goes to show how easy it is for people to unawarely act the opposite of what they speak, and I think this idea is still relevant today.