Ida: A Sword Among Lions, by Paula J. Giddings

aubreyvaughn's review

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informative slow-paced


kikiandarrowsfishshelf's review

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Not only should we thank Toni Morrison for her beautiful novels and wonderful essays, but also for pushing Giddings to write this important biography of Ida B. Wells. And Giddings deserves thanks and love times ten for this work.

I didn’t realize how unusual some of my schooling was until I started to teach. For instance, because I had a teacher who was a descendent of Sally Hemmings and who told the class the story of Sally Hemmings, I always took that relationship with Jefferson as a given fact. It wasn’t until I was teaching that I realized some students in this day when Dr. Gordon-Reed has proven the fact, that people still are not told of the history.

But even with that background, I did not hear about Ida B Wells until after college when I was reading a book that referenced her. I looked her up. Today, we are lucky because her work is very accessible with the rise of e-books and texts. Giddings’ book does this famous woman a service but will also leave you wondering why it took so long. (Not that this is Giddings fault and she does examine some of these questions).

Ida B. Wells was a woman who most likely was not easy to get along with but who needs more statues because we should remember her and shout her name from the roof tops. It is because of Wells’ work as a journalist that we have the first major studies about lynching, a part of American history that we have yet to fully acknowledge and come to terms with as a nation. Perhaps her work on this dark issue has lead to her unjust and incorrect second tier status; a nation wants to forget such things. It shouldn’t though.

Born to former slaves who died when she was in her teens, Wells worked first as a teacher and then as a journalist and activist. In fact, Giddings includes in the photo section, a post that showcases Wells, Dubois, Washington, and Douglass as the famous speakers on race post-Civil War. During the course of her career, Wells addressed the politics and racism of rape, of education, and of protesting in addition to lynching. She was instrumental in the founding and running of several black groups

She was a hell of a woman, and not a tradition meek and mild sort either.

Giddings’ biography perhaps focuses more on Wells’ personal life, her interior life being difficult to know or evaluate. It is still a riveting book. Giddings’ prose is lively and clear. While there is a sense of Wells keeping herself back, Giddings does an excellent job of not only detailing the historical times but also examining the possible reasons for Wells’ drive. She also does not make out Wells to be more saint than sinner.

A must read.

legxleg's review

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2.5. I appreciated the information, and the book was very comprehensive, but I feel like it was almost too comprehensive. As an example, the author tells a story about a time when young Ida spent too much money shopping at a department store, and subsequently was unable to pay her rent. This is an interesting anecdote, but is made less so when the author makes sure to tell us the typical price of the items she bought, a brief history of the department store she bought them from, the name of the landlady she was unable to pay rent to, and a discussion of why the landlady was renting out rooms. I felt like the interesting story of Ida B Wells's life was buried in an avalanche of distracting superfluous facts. There were portions that avoided this problem, such as the descriptions of the various lynchings that Ida wrote about, which were genuinely horrific and moving. I do feel like I have a greater understanding of the state of race relations at the time based on that alone. I think it is interesting to get insight into the sort of pettiness and in-fighting that went on in the civil rights movement of Ida's time. I also was really pleased to learn more about Ida B Wells herself. However, I can't ignore the fact that I feel like I have been reading this book for an age, which is generally not a great sign for me.