Sarah Silkey, professor of history and social economic justice at Lycoming College of Pennsylvania, shared her research about the life of American civil rights advocate and investigative journalist Ida B. Wells at Mount Saint Mary College on Thursday, March 2.
Silkey discussed how Wells used early techniques of investigative journalism, mobilizing an international effort to raise awareness of the horrors of mob violence targeting Black Americans in the 1890s, which helped her gain support for an anti-lynching campaign across the globe.
She also spoke about the influence of journalism, and how it shapes society’s engagement with social issues like race relations.
“Language shapes our narratives,” Silkey explained, “and narratives shape our understanding.”
According to Silkey, racist narratives in the American press essentially invented the idea of lynching, shaping it into “an expression of the community will,” which became an excuse for the act to occur with no repercussions, and as a public spectacle.
“Journalists played a critical role in shaping this idea that there is something different from murder or assault that we call lynching,” she explained.
The life and career of Wells, Silkey explained, is an example of how just one person can catalyze change in society that the power to influence the course of history.
At Lycoming College, Silkey teaches courses on the intellectual, social and cultural history of modern America. Her research studies the history of mob violence, anti-lynching protest, and transnational debates about American race relations. Silkey is also the author of Black Woman Reformer: Ida B. Wells, Lynching, and Transatlantic Activism.
The event was cosponsored by the college’s Catholic and Dominican Institute, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the Division of Arts and Letters.