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Thinking Through CrisisDepression-Era Black Literature, Theory, and Politics$
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James Edward Ford

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780823286904

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823286904.001.0001

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“Crusade for Justice”

“Crusade for Justice”

Ida B. Wells and the Power of the Multitude

(p.74) Notebook 2 “Crusade for Justice”
Thinking Through Crisis

James Edward Ford III

Fordham University Press

Notebook 2 reframes Ida B Wells as a thinker of the multitude. In her unfinished autobiography Crusade for Justice, Wells sets aside her image as the maverick opposing lynching singlehandedly. Her autobiography grounds her intellectual and activist legacy in galvanizing collective opposition to racism, sexual violence, and class exploitation, with lynching serving as the microcosm of these horrors across the South and a newly imperial United States. This chapter reinterprets Wells’s canonical pamphlets from the 1890s and 1900s through her autobiography’s viewpoint. This notebook also challenges today’s common-sense view that racism is the by-product of “one bad apple” who can be converted to a less racist view by their victims. Lynching involves a collective reinforcing its superiority through informal and formal institutional channels. Only another collective force can counter it. Wells does not find that agency in “the people”—those who are already recognized as having rights—but in the multitude, that complicated mass at once empowering and destabilizing the State. Finally, this chapter challenges leftist romanticizations of the multitude by showing how it can express itself in mass acts of disinformation and terror and the collective pursuit of truth and justice, when guilt and fear are overcome.

Keywords:   American imperialism, the camp, convict leasing, lynching, the multitude, Ida B Wells

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