YWCA MDI Executive Director Jackie Davidson and Jesup Library Children’s Librarian Mae Corrion join in congratulating Massimo Daul. PHOTO COURTESY OF YWCA MDI

Conners Emerson student wins black history month essay contest



BAR HARBOR — In recognition of Black History month, the YWCA of Mount Desert Island in partnership with the Jesup Memorial Library challenged 5th and 6th graders in all island elementary schools to write an essay on an African American woman who had inspired them. Sixth grader Massimo Daul’s essay on Ida Bell Wells was selected as the winner, and earned him the $100 first prize on Friday. When he was asked if he had heard of his subject before, he responded that he read about her when he was in fourth grade and was inspired by her bravery and perseverance seeking justice. His essay is printed here in its entirety.

 

“Segregation is that which is forced upon an inferior by a superior. Separation is done voluntarily by two equals.” – Malcolm X

 

An African American man, Malcolm X, spoke these words about segregation. They are the truth. He was not the only one to speak out against the oppression and segregation of African Americans. There were many who found it in their hearts to stand up and shout, to be oppressed no longer. Not all of these people were men. And I am writing this to tell you about one person, not a man, but a woman, who stood up and led a group against the atrocious behavior of the whites. Her name was Ida Bell Wells.

She was born in Mississippi, in 1862. She was the eldest offspring of her mother, Lizzie Wells, and her father, James Wells. Just after she was born, the confederate army was vanquished, and the slaves were freed. This made almost no difference in the treatment of African Americans in Mississippi. They were still brutalized and cheated.

Her schooling was achieved at Rust College, where her parents served on the board of trustees. Ida had to drop out at the shy age of sixteen after a calamity befell her family. Both of her parents and one of her siblings were killed by an outbreak of yellow fever. She then convinced a college administrator than she was 18, and she landed a job as a teacher.

On board a train heading to Nashville in May of 1884, Ida Wells was struck by the hand of fate. She had the money to buy a comfy first class ticket, but the crew of the train forced her to the African American car. She refused, deeming it unjust and was forcibly removed from the train, but not before biting one of the men. She did not give up. Wells then filed a case and won $500 as a settlement.

She did not let up on the injustice in the south. Using an ink soaked scimitar, she became a journalist. She wrote about the politics of the south. Her pseudonym was Iola, and she wrote articles published in black newspapers. She later became the owner of the “Memphis Free Speech and Headlight.” This was later called “Free Speech.”

What happens next in her tale is first horrifying, then cruel and then inspirational.

Three black men opened a shop in Memphis. Their store sold groceries. This store took away some of the business of a white owned store near it. The owners of the two stores clashed on multiple occasions. This conflict led to an attack on the black store. The owners of the store, having no choice, shot some of the white aggressors. They were brought to jail but never had a trial. The reason why being that a lynch mob took them away and killed them.

Ida was furious at the perpetrators. She traveled the south for two months, finding information on lynching incidents elsewhere. She then proceeded to publish her findings. These reports angered the city’s whites. At one point, a mob ransacked her office, destroying her equipment. She was in New York at the time of the mob. But on the advice of a friend, she stayed away from Memphis.

Her career did not end here though. She continued to advocate for her cause. Through the funding of Fredrick Douglass, she brought her Anti-Lynching campaign to the steps of the White House. She led a protest in Washington and asked President McKinley to make amendments and reforms. She married and birthed four children but continued to fight for political activism.

After reading this story, it is stupendously hard to not be inspired. She braved the threats of violence in Memphis, the death of her mother and father, and the oppression of African Americans in the south. She was cunning and stubborn, lying about her age in order to teach and refusing to stand down for her cause. Her protest on Washington is testament to her reserve. She inspired me to never back down from an issue where people are at harm. And she also taught me, through her editorials and papers, that the pen is mightier than the sword.

 

 

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