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"They Say"

Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race

James West Davidson

Publication Date - 21 July 2008

ISBN: 9780195160215

256 pages
4-3/4 x 6-3/4 inches

In Stock

This gripping book chronicles the first thirty years in the life of activist Ida B. Wells, intertwining her tumultuous story with the shifting definitions of race in post-emancipation America.


In 'They Say,' James West Davidson recounts the first thirty years in the passionate life of Ida B. Wells--as well as the story of the great struggle over the meaning of race in post-emancipation America. Davidson captures the breathtaking and often chaotic changes that swept the South as Wells grew up in Holly Springs, Mississippi: the spread of education among free blacks, the rise of political activism, and the bitter struggles for equality in the face of entrenched social custom.

When Wells came of age she moved to bustling Memphis, where her quest for personal fulfillment was thwarted as whites increasingly used race as a barrier to separate blacks from mainstream America. Davidson traces the crosscurrents of these cultural conflicts through Wells's forceful personality, intertwining her struggle to define herself with her early courageous, and often audacious, behavior. When a conductor threw her off a train for refusing to sit in the segregated car, she sued the railroad--and won. When she protested conditions in segregated Memphis schools, she was fired--and took up journalism. And in 1892, when an explosive lynching rocked Memphis, Wells embarked fully on the career for which she is now remembered, as outspoken anti-lynching writer and lecturer.

Period photographs from postcards, newspapers, and Wells's own diary further engage readers in this dynamic story. Richly researched and deftly written, the book offers a gripping portrait of the young Ida B. Wells, who directly encountered and influenced the evolving significance of race in America.

About the Author(s)

James West Davidson is a historian and writer. He is coauthor of After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection, Nation of Nations: A History of the American Republic, and Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure.


"Lynching is the greatest disgrace in our history, and Ida Wells-Barnett was its most courageous assailant. James West Davidson has written an eloquent account of the growth of Wells-Barnett's self-defined persona as a black woman, journalist, and fearless crusader. Refusing to accept an identity shaped by others--'they say'--she boldly told the world that 'I say' who I am and what I stand for."--James McPherson, author of The Battle Cry of Freedom and The Mighty Scourge

"How did Ida Wells become the woman who challenged the silence of America on lynching? James Davidson shows us by re-creating the world of African Americans during the turbulent decades after the Civil War. A touching, compelling portrait of an important life in crucial times."--H.W. Brands, University of Texas at Austin, author of Andrew Jackson and The Money Men

Table of Contents

    Prologue: "Does This Look Natchel?"
    One: Into a Changing World
    Two: A Moral Education
    Three: Unladylike Lady
    Four: Edged Tools
    Five: Ambition to Edit
    Six: They Say
    Seven: Do Something
    Eight: Exiled
    Selected Bibliography

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