REVIEW: “Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice”

San Diego City College hosts “Black Film Fridays” with a depiction of Wells-Barnett’s legacy of journalism and activism

Ida B. Wells archival photograph

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) devoted her life to resisting the reformulation of white supremacy and violence in the post-Civil War era, using journalism as an incisive tool for change. Archival photo by Oscar B. Willis courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections

Philip Salata, Multimedia Journalist

As a part of Black History Month a series of film screenings will be held on Zoom for the San Diego City College community followed by discussions.  

This week’s “Black Film Friday” features “Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice,” directed by William Greaves.

This hour-long biographical piece depicts the life and work of journalist, activist, anti-lynching campaigner, and African American suffragette Ida B. Wells-Barnett, whose methodical and uncompromising voice served as a guiding beacon for Black rights throughout the post-Reconstruction era.

The post-Civil War era saw a reinstitutionalization of violence toward African Americans with the rise of Jim Crow laws. 

At 22 years of age, Wells-Barnett sued the Southwestern Railroad Company after having been removed by force from the women’s wagon in the train due to her race.

At first she won, but soon after the decision was reversed.

“I have firmly believed all along that the law was on our side,” Wells-Barnett wrote in her journal, “and would, when we appealed to it, give us justice. I feel shorn of that belief and discouraged, and just now, if it were possible, would gather my race in my arms and fly away with them.”

She did. But she did it rather by dedicating her life to articulating the Black struggle against white supremacy in its constantly shape-shifting forms. 

This event marked her transformation from an avid teacher to a prolific writer, and soon her articles were published in newspapers throughout the United States.

Director Greaves’ historical document cleverly sews together archival newspapers and illustrations, with narrative accounts of Wells-Barnett’s life told by her descendents, as well as captivating readings from her works by Nobel prize-winning writer Toni Morrison.

The film makes an incredibly efficient work of depicting not only the life of Wells-Barnett, but also of the times through which she ushered her readers.

Her strong and candid relationship with Susan B. Anthony also brings to light questions regarding the relationship between race, gender, radical political thought and the manifold expressions of prejudice. 

All which Wells-Barnett faces with tact, and sometimes a persistence that forces her to regalvanize her coalitions.

The event, hosted by the City Umoja Program, Black Studies Department, HUBU, World Cultures, City Scholars, and Diversity Committee, is on Feb. 11 at 6 p.m and can be accessed here.

To see all Black History Month events at City visit the calendar here.