The significance of Ida B. Wells to Chicago was too great not to be celebrated in a children’s book. We have a street named for Wells, but many of us cannot tell exactly why. Luckily, Michelle Duster has penned “Ida B. the Queen” to share with young readers.
Fair warning, this is not a cozy bedtime tome that you meter out night-by-night to your little ones. Definitely buy this book for children, no matter their age or gender, but read it yourself. Certainly, the young ones will be fascinated by the drawings and pictures, the school-aged kids will be absorbed into the story of a woman who was born so close to slavery, lived through Reconstruction and died during the height of the Depression. Ida B. Wells-Barnett was one who did not conform to the norms of gender, race or occupation.
The book takes on hard topics, such as slavery, reconstruction, lynching, discrimination, suffrage, voter’s rights, courage and honor. It contains a lesson in civil rights organizing, a profile of courage, a blueprint of cracking glass ceilings, inspiration for writers of all ages, and a lesson on how to be included even when you are not wanted. This book should be on the shelves of every school library, and at home, it should be nestled between Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and Sojourner Truth’s “The Book Of Life.”
Ida B. preceded Rosa Parks as a woman who was bodily removed from transportation, in her case from the women’s rail car because she was traveling as a single Black woman, not as a nanny to white children. Ida sued the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad Company and won, but the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the decision. Before the protest marches of recent years, Ida B. wrote in her diaries, “no peace, no justice.” But Ida didn’t stop there. She used the power of writing and publications to expose the injustice of lynching that swept the country during her lifetime. You will learn that Ida B. was one of the founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People); a network of women’s clubs that organized Black women; a powerful speaker, considered by the FBI as a “dangerous Negro Agitator”; and an owner of a newspaper.
This book is the third written by her great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, a writer who didn’t learn a lot about her family history from her elders. Unknowingly following in Ida B.’s footsteps, she is extending her grandmother’s mission promoting equality and justice. Using Ida’s diaries, newspaper articles of the day, her newspaper columns and court documents, this is an eye-opening biography.
Ida B. the Queen
By Michelle Duster
Atria/One Signal, 176 pages
L. D. Barnes writes mystery, historical fiction and poetry. She is working on the second novel in her Chicago Street Crime series while living on the far south side. Barnes is a member of FLOW (For Love of Writing), Longwood Writers Guild and Mystery Writers of America. She performs locally.