Our country's national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. - Ida B. Wells   What makes the dead body worthwhile is that it was once living

It is true that in every instance of black death, we adorn the dead body with its accomplishments. We name the people who loved the person who was once alive. We look for the pictures where they once smiled into the sun, their camera turned on their own face. And we do this, consistently and loudly, because we have to. Because we have seen enough death to know what untruths feed on a body at rest

I say this to say that I do not want to talk about Sandra Bland getting her dream job, or the joy that seemed to fill her life before she lost it. I want to speak plainly about the hanging of black bodies from anything in this country strong enough to hold them

It took three men to remove Ida B. Wells from a train car in 1884, and for his trouble, one of them got her teeth marks in his arm. She should have never been asked to move from her seat to the smoking car of the train and she knew this. She measured the fight and took it on. This is my favorite story about Ida B. Wells’ life. It’s the one that will show up first when you click on a Google doodle, and I tell it to someone every year on the day of her birth. It makes sense to tell the story today. I like to think that Ida B. Wells always knew what we see so clearly now. When black men die, they live on, almost forever. When black women vanish, they often simply vanish. When enough outlets tell you that your life is an exercise in rehearsing invisibility, when you become invisible, it just seems like you’re performing the grand closing act. I admire the work of Ida B. Wells, of course. But more than that, I admire her consistent refusal of silence. It is present in all of us, I believe. But I become most inspired when I see it in black women. I come from a long line of black women who spoke, who moved with authority — direct descendants of The School of Wells

It took two men to arrest Sandra Bland on the side of a road last week. One was holding her firm to the ground while she cried out in pain and, perhaps, fear. We are to believe that she assaulted one of the men, though we do not see it. We so rarely do. We are to believe that Sandra Bland was hung three days later, though we are not clear on how her body was fixed to a metal bar, or what was used to hang it. But we are to believe that it hung, nonetheless. We are to believe that this was due to a traffic stop. We are to believe that she was planning a bright future. We are to know that it will not exist

It is impossible to even mention America’s history of lynching without mentioning the woman who fought most fervently to dismantle it at a time when men were being dragged from their homes and hung for not paying debts or being too drunk in public places

Or, in other cases, for displeasing law enforcement

There is sacrifice in that. In being a black woman who fights and is alive at any time in this country’s history is a sacrifice. It can still get you a death sentence, though the knife is fashioned differently. When Ida B. Wells couldn’t go home to Philadelphia, she fought in Chicago. When the mobs came for her in Chicago, she went to England. And like so many black women, she fought and lived and loved a family and built a home and wrote and pushed to the front when the front did not want her there. And she did not want to stop the fight until more black women had room of their own, until black men stopped being hung from trees

But Ida B. Wells died an unceremonious death in 1931 and we are to believe that Sandra Bland hung from a jail cell just this week

It was the failure of kidneys that took Wells at age 69, not any of the violent mobs, their whetted teeth shining against the moon. I write about Wells today, how much she hated the rope, the black bodies left hanging in the south. And I write about Sandra Bland today, the all-too-familiar death, the dead body that this country has come to know, the one that we write about even when we are not writing about it. And my hands can’t help but shake

I don’t know anything more about Sandra Bland than anyone else, other than the fact that I want her life to be one that is not forgotten. I want us to honor the living black women who fight and I want us to fight for the black women who no longer have the honor of living. I want us to respect the legacies that were remarkable by virtue of boundary-pushing and I want us to respect the legacies that were remarkable by virtue of being alive and loved. I want these statements to not be “brave,” or “unique”

I want them to be expected

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