Ida B. Wells-Barnett told a story in the preface of her autobiography about a young Black girl that asked Wells-Barnett to inform her about the anti-lynching movement Wells-Barnett started in 1892.
The young girl explained she was in a discussion about the heroine Joan of Arc and was asked if she knew a woman with the same strength of character. The young girl named Ida B. Wells-Barnett, but the discussion leader asked the young girl why Wells-Barnett deserved the distinction.
The young girl admitted to Wells-Barnett, “I couldn’t tell them why I thought so. I heard you mentioned so often by that name, so I gave it. I was dreadfully embarrassed…Please tell me what you did so the next time…I can give an intelligent answer.”
This encounter in 1928 inspired Wells-Barnett to write her autobiography. Wells-Barnett stated the Black youth had Frederick Douglass’ account of slavery, but they didn’t have an account of the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. She described that period as the time of the KKK, ballot-box stuffing, and the wholesale murder of Blacks who tried to exercise their newfound rights.
Wells-Barnett said the gallant fight and bravery of Blacks to maintain their newborn rights in the South, with little protection from the government which gave them these rights and no previous training in citizenship or politics, is a story which would fire the race pride of all our young people if it had only been written down. The history of this entire period which reflected glory on the race should be known. Yet most of it is buried in oblivion and only the southern White man’s misrepresentations are in public libraries and college textbooks.
Recently the Mayor of New Orleans echoed a similar sentiment in a speech explaining why it was necessary for the city to remove its confederate monuments. The Mayor stated the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected to honor these men…but to rewrite history, to hide the truth, which the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.
Then the Mayor said a friend asked him to imagine an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee was and why he stands atop the city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story?
The answer’s no. Wells-Barnett, who was born in slavery, wrote her autobiography so the next generation would understand that they inherited a legacy of liberty and not a second class past.
After the Mayor’s speech a Black woman from New Orleans wrote in Teen Vogue, “I felt relieved…My hometown would no longer, either consciously or subconsciously, revere the people who represent enslavement…I felt relieved knowing that someday when I have children, they will not have these signs of post-Civil War oppression looming over them.”
Now let’s take this a step further. Will her children loom under the premise advanced by 21st century advocates of reparations for slavery?
Economics aside, there’s a psychological premise attached to this argument that is counterproductive for generations born in the 21st century. Remember, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down segregation laws in the south because a Black psychologist produced evidence that segregation created an inferiority complex inside of Black children.
But 21st century reparations advocates promote the permanency of the lingering effects of slavery to collect punitive damages. Their evidence is pseudo-scientific theories like post traumatic slave syndrome and tales of psychological conditioning from a slave master named Willie Lynch. This narrative rejects the inheritance of Wells-Barnett, the hardships of freedom, and misrepresents the most rapidly successful race of people to ever come out of bondage.
The mayor was asked could he explain the statue of Robert E. Lee to a Black child. Robert E. Lee is gone. The question now is when a Black child inquires about the psychological premise behind reparations for slavery will the child receive an intelligent answer or would the child be dreadfully embarrassed by the explanation.
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier. He blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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