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Ida B. Wells: Discovering History's Heroes

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Ida B. Wells: Discovering History's Heroes Book Poster Image
Inspiring biography of courageous civil rights pioneer.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kid-friendly explanations of complex historical subjects like racism, lynching, and political activism. Wells' life also intersected with many other prominent historical figures like Susan B. Anthony, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglass, all of whom appear in the book.

Positive Messages

"The way to write wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them," said Ida, and she dedicated her life as a journalist and activist to doing just that.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ida B. Wells dedicated her life to writing and political activism on behalf of African Americans suffering from violent oppression, at great personal risk and sacrifice. Her truly heroic efforts made a huge impact on the lives of many, even directly saving some from lynch mobs. At a time when women -- and especially Black women --were discouraged from participating in public life, Ida refused to stop fighting for justice.

Violence & Scariness

Although the book doesn't describe the violent acts in detail, the topic of lynching is addressed throughout. This includes mentions of men being shot, beaten, and tortured.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Diane Bailey's Ida B. Wells: Discovering History's Heroes is a kid-friendly biography of one of the early pioneers of civil rights activism. The book follows Ida from from a difficult upbringing in Mississippi, where she was born into slavery and lost her parents at a young age, to her rise as a widely read and highly influential journalist and speaker whose anti-lynching campaign in the in the 1890s made her famous across the country and around the world. The biography deals with difficult topics like racism and lynching in a delicate way, making it accessible and informative for younger readers who should know about the important life and legacy of this underappreciated hero.

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What's the story?

IDA B. WELLS: DISCOVERING HISTORY'S HEROES, written by prolific children's author Diane Bailey, traces the life story of one of the most accomplished feminists and civil rights icons of the late 19th and early 20th century. At a time when few Black women were able to write about difficult political topics and get published, Ida's writing talent and dedication to social justice earned her the support and respect of major figures like Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery in Mississippi, Ida grew up during the difficult period of the Civil War and its aftermath, known as Reconstruction. Black Americans, especially in the South, were targeted by White racists who resented Black freedom. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan were part of a bigger movement to violently enforce white supremacy, making it almost impossible for Black people to find protection from police or the courts. Ida B. Wells spent her entire career trying to draw attention to the dangers and injustices faced by African Americans. She had to flee her adopted home of Tennessee because of the racial prejudice she faced as a woman of color willing to call out White mob violence. After moving to New York, she was never able to return to the South, at least until much later in life when she risked her safety to intervene on behalf of a group of men who were imprisoned and in danger of being lynched. Her selfless activism also extended into the world of labor organizing, the women's rights movement, and beyond. In addition to creating her own activist organization called the Negro Fellowship League (NFL), she was also a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). All of these stories, as well as her family life, are highlighted in the book, with a helpful glossary in the back to aid and educate young readers.

Is it any good?

Ida B. Wells' story is incredibly inspiring, and this exciting and educational biography helps to introduce her to a new generation. While she's not as well-known as many other civil rights heroes, she deserves to be. Likewise, this era of Black activism is often overshadowed by the later civil rights movement associated with people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Diane Bailey's snappy writing and strong storytelling in Ida B. Wells: Discovering History's Heroes helps recover this important earlier period of African American history, which laid the groundwork for political victories like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ida didn't live to see much of the progress that she fought for, but learning about her life and work can help young readers understand the difference one person can make in the long and difficult struggle for justice.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the role of activists and journalists shown in Ida B. Wells: Discovering History's Heroes. How can writers and protestors make a difference in the world of politics?

  • Why do you think it took more than 100 years for the United States government to pass a federal anti-lynching law? Why is it important to talk about the history of racial violence?

  • How hard was it for a woman in Ida's day to become a newspaper publisher? Is it still hard today? How have things changed for working women since the early 1900s?

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For kids who love to learn about African American history

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