I am Loki, of Asgard and I am burdened with glorious purpose.”
The Avengers, 2012
I’m not quiet about my love for Ida B. Wells. It’s probably my least endearing trait. Ida B. Wells embodies an American hero. I’m not going to give a bio of her here, but just know she was a powerful anti-lynching advocate, and historian Mia Bay has written an amazing biography about her, To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells. The thing about Ida B. Wells though is that she was burdened with glorious purpose — to quote a Marvel movie. In her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, she says that she is writing it so that youth will know what her generation did for them in the “time of storm and stress” after the Civil War. Her entire life was committed to creating a better world for her children and grandchildren.
I often think about these early black reformers who rose up after the Civil War. The way they began to carve out places for themselves and their descendants. The names that they took for themselves: “race people” and “New Negroes.” The injustices that they faced for “the race.” It’s a period that can be inspiring but also depressing. One can simultaneously see the paths reformers carved, and the equality we still haven’t achieved.
What pulls me to Wells specifically though is I feel like she’s talking to me. When she says she wants the youth to know I can imagine myself sitting at her feet and learning. When I’m struggling through grad school work, I remind myself that I too am burdened with glorious purpose (to once again quote a villain in a Marvel movie). I also want the youth to know what Wells did for them. I also want to show “that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning” (Wells). I’m constantly humbled to be at an elite private institution that wasn’t built for people who look like me.
Because of them we can.
In honor of the first day of Black History Month:
(Re-issue of post written for old blog post)