The struggle for human rights has been going on for generations, and despite some impressive gains, there is still a great need for continuing this effort. The recent controversy in Virginia about the use of blackface and KKK symbols is only the most recent demonstration of the racism still disappointingly prevalent in this nation.
Numerous recent videos showing the killing of unarmed black youths by police led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement to counter this racism. The young activists who began this movement well understood Frederick Douglas’ insightful dictum: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. … Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Of the many people who have played important roles in advancing human rights in this nation are two influential and controversial women: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Angela Davis. Wells received early attention for her courageous and investigative reporting on the widespread illegal lynchings of black men and boys after the Civil War. She encountered fierce and violent opposition designed to silence her reporting, including the burning of her newspaper in Memphis in 1892. Her pamphlet “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” and its 1895 expansion “The Red Record” had a strong impact in the U.S. and in Britain. Wells concluded that Southerners concocted rape as an excuse to hide their real reason for lynchings: black economic progress, which threatened not only white Southerners’ pocketbooks, but also their ideas about black inferiority.
Among her other activities, Wells was a wife, mother, educator and ardent crusader for civil rights and for the right of all women to vote. Last, but certainly not least, she was also one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909. She was a truly remarkable person.
Professor Davis, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, is known as an educator and scholar as well as a radical activist and an inspirational speaker and writer. Her activist work has focused on promoting women’s rights, combating racism, and abolishing the unjust and racist prison-industrial complex.
Davis is controversial for her past involvement with the U.S. Communist Party and the Black Panthers and, particularly, for her support for the imprisoned Soledad Brothers. There was an attempt to help the Soledad Brothers escape, and Davis was charged with kidnapping and murder. Davis was found not guilty of the charges by an all-white jury.
Davis also is an outspoken supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign for justice for Palestinians, a position viewed with alarm by many Israeli proponents. In fact, Israeli supporters recently successfully pressured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to rescind giving its human rights award to this amazing woman. This effort is consistent with the Israeli effort to destroy the impressive BDS campaign. Thankfully, the Institute reversed itself once again on Jan. 25, stood up for human rights and re-offered the award to Davis.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.