Ida B. Wells Won the Pulitzer. Here’s Why that Matters.Roundup
tags: racism, Pulitzer Prize, journalism, Ida B. Wells
Sarah L. Silkey is a professor of history at Lycoming College. Her research explores the history of racial violence in American society and she is the author of Black Woman Reformer: Ida B. Wells, Lynching, and Transatlantic Activism.
This week, the journalist Ida B. Wells was honored with a Pulitzer Prize awarded posthumously. The significance of this award was made clear when, that very same day, President Trump reiterated comments decrying women journalists as angry and unladylike — attacks he has made time and time again particularly toward women of color.
Although the president has attacked male journalists as well and derided the press in general as the enemy of the people, the comments he directs toward black women journalists have a particular valence. For example, in response to PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor’s question about masks and ventilators, Trump admonished, “Be nice. Don’t be threatening.” Alcindor later tweeted about the incident, commenting that she was “not the first human being, woman, black person or journalist to be told that while doing a job.”
She is right. Attacking the character and decorum of black female journalists to avoid answering tough questions has a long history in the U.S. stretching back to the 19th century. Wells, a pioneering African American journalist and civil rights activist, frequently faced personal attacks from white male political leaders for raising uncomfortable truths. Her ability to navigate the personal attacks to generate meaningful political change is why she deserved the Pulitzer Prize, and why the women who have followed in her footsteps make Trump so uneasy.
Of the dozens of black female journalists in the 19th century, few ventured into political topics as fearlessly as Wells. An early muckraker, she attracted the ire of those who benefited from the unjust systems she exposed. Wells’s campaign against lynching, for which she won recognition, brought unprecedented scrutiny to American mob violence. She published numerous investigative newspaper reports, editorials and pamphlets denouncing lynching as a form of racial terrorism.