On Friday, August 11, I was honored to receive the Ida B. Wells Award from the National Association of Black Journalists at our annual convention in New Orleans. In accepting, I felt it necessary to remind people of the fighting spirit of Ida B. Wells and offered a challenge to my colleagues on what we must do to protect our profession – and our story. Here are my prepared remarks, delivered, for the most part, intact.
I stand on the shoulders of giants, some from 100 years ago, some from 20 years ago, some from last year. But the most important thing is: I also stand on the shoulders of NABJ babies I’ve helped teach for 25 years who are becoming giants.
I stand here in honor of a woman who taught us that journalism can and should be, in some cases – a crusade.
Ida B. Wells Barnett was born the child of slaves in Mississippi. She became a teacher whose first righteous complaint was that white teachers made $50 more a month than she. Rosa Parks was not the first to refuse to give up her seat, not in 1955, not in our history. Wells sued the train company that kicked her out of her first-class seat that she bought. She won, but after the verdict was overturned on appeal, she wrote: “O God, is there no…justice in this land for us?” But her greatest and most heartbreaking work came after a black friend was lynched by a white mob whose initial anger was that his grocery store was competing successfully against a white store. Wells urged black people to leave Memphis. More than 6,000 did. Thus began an anti-lynching campaign that must continue today.
They are still lynching us.
They are STILL lynching us.
They stopped using ropes and trees.
They stopped celebrating – out loud.
They took off their hoods.
But they are still here.
Those times we thought were gone are just a tweet away.
Hate crimes are rising. The Fourth Estate is under siege. People cannot tell the difference between those of us trained to help them find the truth and some guy sitting in his underwear in a basement in Wisconsin declaring that his new is real.