Professor Jennie Ikuta: White Public Sentiment and Black Political Agency in the Thought of Ida B. Wells

To what extent can historical knowledge motivate the pursuit of racial justice? The recent proliferation of public history initiatives in the United States—such as the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum—implicitly answer yes. Such initiatives assume that white ignorance of past racial injustice explains the persistence of injustice today; conversely, it is assumed that if whites gain historical knowledge about racial injustice, then they are likely to be motivated to create a more racially just present and future. This paper examines Ida B. Wells’ writings to challenge this assumption. Specifically, it asks: given an intransigent public opinion that is unmoved by facts, what motivational potential do facts hold, and for whom? This talk shows that for Wells, while facts have a limited motivational power for white Americans, they are significant for two other groups: Black Americans and the British. To the extent that facts matter as motivational sources of political action, then, Wells suggests that they matter for reasons beyond those conventionally assumed by contemporary liberals.

Friday, February 23 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Ketchum Arts and Sciences, 1B31
1775 Central Campus Mall, Boulder, CO 80309

Event Type



Diversity & Inclusion, Law & Politics


Faculty, Students, Graduate Students

College, School & Unit

Arts & Sciences

Center for Critical Thought, Political Science
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