Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Powerful And Wise Voice From Beyond The Grave: Ida B. Wells-Barnett On The "Functions of Leadership”

Ida and her kids.
Ida B. Wells as the young justice crusader.

The following is an article written by Ida B. Wells-Barnett. This article offers very revealing insights into her thoughts and feelings about the issues of Black leadership of her day, many of which still affect us to this day! Her peers often cited Ida as being a brilliant writer but a dangerous revolutionary and foe in terms of her philosophies and straightforwardness in which she presented them. You decide. Ida’s pen or nick name was Iola. (This article and more can also be found reprinted in the Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells a book which I highly recommend anyone interested in Ida, Black History, U.S. History and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement read. If you want to access some of Ida's powerful works of writing online for free click here.
Bro. R2

“Functions of Leadership”
Living Way, September 12, 1885
(Reprinted in the New York Freeman)

I came across a letter last week in the Detroit Plaindealer, from Washington, signed S.S.R., in which he gave a whole string of names, of men who are famous as orators, politicians, officeholders, teachers, lawyers, congressman, and an ex-senator- from whom to choose a leader or leaders of the race. “Let me see” mused I, “these men have acquired fame and wealth in their several callings, they have and are now declaring themselves devoted to the interest of the people, and are thereby looked upon as leaders, have impeachable characters, are justly called representative of the race- but since they have by individual energy, gotten the well earned laurels of fame, wealth, individual energy, gotten the well earned laurels of fame, wealth, individual recognition and influence- how many of them are exerting their talents and wealth for the benefit or amelioration of the condition of the masses?” I look around among those I know, and read up the histories of those I do not know, and it seems to me the interest ceases after self has been provided for. Of those who are amassing, or have wealth I can not call to mind a single one who has expended or laid out any of his capital for the purpose of opening business establishments, or backing those that are opened by those of limited means; none of them have opened such establishments where the young colored men and women who have been educated can find employment, and yet complain that there is no opening for the young people.
The whites have the young people of their own race to employ and it is hardly to be wondered at that they do not do for the Negro what his leaders have not done for him; if those who have capital to employ in establishing such enterprises as are needed why-the-the leaders are leaving a great field, whereby their leadership can be strengthened, undeveloped. The ambition seems to be to get all they can for their own use, and the rest may shift for themselves; some of them do not wish, after getting wealth for themselves, to be longer identified with the people to whom they owe their political preferment; if no more. They are able to pay for berths and seats in Pullman cars, and consequently can report that-“railroad officials don’t bother me, in traveling,” and give entertainments that have but a single representative of their own race present, can see and hear of indignities and insults offered their people because of individual preservation from such, can look and listen unmoved saying, “ if it were my wife or daughter or relative I would do so and so,” so what real benefit are they to their race anyway? “Their example is beneficial, by inspiring others to follow in their footsteps with a hope of similar success,” did someone say? True, I had almost forgotten that; example is a great thing, but all of us can not be millionaires, orators, lawyers, doctors; what then must become of the mediocrity, the middle and lower classes that are found in all races? It is easier to say, “Go thou and do likewise,” than do it. I would like very much for S.S.R. to tell me what material benefit is a “leader” if he does not, to some extent, devote his time, talent and wealth to the alleviation of the poverty and misery, and elevation of his people?

No comments: