Warrior Queens: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Frances Cress Welsing
By Nzingha Nommo*
Presented by Omni-University
Bold, Beautiful, Black women are the Mothers of Civilization. They inspire, guide, nurture, and support us in ways seen and unseen. This curated Chicago collection of Black Women in History is a mix of contemporary and historical figures who have shaped our lives that we can reference for clear examples of those who dared to make a difference through their works. Since I was born and raised in Chicago, this list is near and dear to my heart. It was a delight to reflect on landmarks that I pass on a regular basis.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
The power in the pen of the "Princess of the Press," Ida B. Wells-Barnett cut through the joists holding up the strong supports of racism by exposing meticulous details of lynching across the country with her pamphlets. This fearless trailblazer who was born just before the end of the enslavement period on July 16th, 1862 was driven to tell the truth about the South in particular from the Black perspective. While she was born in Holly Springs, MS, she moved to Chicago in 1895, got married, and started a family.
An excerpt from her 1899 "Lynch Law in Georgia" is hauntingly apropos today as if discussing the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd:
"The real purpose of these savage demonstrations is to teach the Negro that in the South he has no rights that the law will enforce. Samuel Hose was burned to teach the Negroes that no matter what a white man does to them, they must not resist."
Frederick Douglas said of her writing in a letter she published from him in 1892, "Brave Woman! You have done your people and mine a service which can neither be weighed nor measured. If American conscience were only half alive, if the American church and clergy were only half Christianized, if American moral sensibility were not hardened by persistent infliction of outrage and crime against colored people, a scream of horror, shame and indignation would rise to Heaven where ever your pamphlet shall be read." This letter was published in the comprehensive book published in 2021 by her granddaughter Michelle Duster called, "Ida B. The Queen. the Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells." I enjoyed the first skim of this book because it resembles a scrapbook with letters, photographs, old newspaper articles, quotations, and creative illustrations. It would make an excellent textbook as it co-mingles historical facts with current events.
Interest has grown in Chicago for this historical icon/activist/mother/educator/
journalist/author when Congress Parkway was named after her on July 26, 2018, by the Chicago City Council. Her home had already received landmark status on Oct. 2, 1995, at 3624 S Martin Luther King Dr. It is ominous to note that the lynchings she fought against with ardent fervor has yet to be acknowledged as a federal crime. Known as H. R. 35, the "Emmett Till Antilynching Act," was sent back to the Senate for a vote and was blocked by Senator Rand Paul in June 2020.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote her autobiography before her death on Mar. 25, 1931. The title "Crusade for Justice'' was first published in 1970 by her daughter Alfreda Duster. The new edition was updated and released May 13, 2020. It contains a new foreword and afterword by her granddaughter Michelle Duster. These books can be found at Afriware Books, titles are linked below:
Frances Cress Welsing
Psychiatrist, teacher, activist, and thought leader Dr. Frances Cress Welsing did a deep dive into the origin of racism with her treatise, "The Isis Papers." Dr. Welsing appeared at Afriware on several occasions over the years. Dr. Welsing is a third-generation doctor who was born in Chicago on March 18, 1935.
Her definition of "racism- white supremacy" has gotten to the root of its structure. She defines it as:
A power system dynamic structured and maintained by persons who classify themselves as white whether consciously or subconsciously determined. Which [this] consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thoughts, speech, actions, and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of people activity: economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion sex, war for the ultimate purpose of white genetic survival and preventing white genetic annihilation on planet earth.
In 1974, Dr. Welsing debated a very controversial scientist named William Shockley in an interview on Tony Brown's Journal. I spoke about the importance this scientist played in my studies as an undergraduate Electrical Engineering student in another blog post called, "Who Created Black History Month and Why?" In short, this scientist is highly venerated repeatedly in the career path I chose. Shockley also promoted "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life" by Hernstein and Murray to prove that Black people were genetically inferior to White people. With poise, confidence, and finesse, the calm, cool and triple collected Dr. Welsing picked apart every detail and left the scientist scrambling for his paperwork for answers.
Afriware Books, Co prepared a "Proclamation" to be read at her memorial (transitioned Jan. 2, 2016), but unfortunately, there wasn't enough time on the program. Instead, we sent it directly to her sister Lorne Love. It can be read in its entirety here:
This document was well received by her sister who would always attend her lectures when she spoke at Afriware Books, Co along with her other sister, now deceased.
This is her often repeated poem recited at many of her lectures:
A Liberating Black People’s Prayer for Justice and Peace
By Dr. Frances Cress Welsing
Thou who are Blacker than a trillion midnights
Whose eyes shine brighter than a billion suns,
Thou whose hair doth coil
tighter than a million springs,
radiating all energy throughout The Universe.
We beseech thee,
One And Only One,
To give us total strength to carry out
THY will for this universe
To establish justice
On planet earth
and live in peace.
We've had such fond memories of her as I've spoken about on our podcast. Her book, "The Isis Papers," is a must-read. "The Osiris Papers: Reflections on the Life and Writings of Dr. Frances Cress Welsing," was written as a tribute to her and her work by scholars, social activists, and entertainers such as Anthony T. Browder, Jeremiah Wright, Jr., Dr. Marimba Ani, Conrad Worrill, and many others.
Books mentioned in this section can be found at Afriware Bookstore. Titles are linked below:
*Reprinted by Permission from: "8 Black Women in History- Chicago Edition" by Nzingha Nommo
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