Truth-Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells

Sectional Reunion and Reconciliation

By 1870 many people in the United States were eager to put the Civil War behind them. Ideas for reconciliation and reunion between the North and South were circulated – and efforts were made to both forget the war and remember it in new ways. Some Northerners were ready to move on and return to their lives, while Southerners created memorialization projects for all they had lost, inventing a new kind of white supremacy and the idea of the “lost cause.” Southern women were key developers of these projects and promoters of these ideas, and rewriting the history of the war and its meaning was included in this work.

Meanwhile, the emancipated slaves began building new lives and communities - and worked to ensure that the rights they had gained would not be lost. They also turned to new ideas of “racial uplift” and were cautiously optimistic for a time that the past was behind them. Some leaders, like Frederick Douglass, and later W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells, sounded warning cries that reconciliation of the North and South would happen through a kind of “re-subjugation” of African-Americans.

By the time of the conflict between Willard and Wells in the early 1890s, reconciliation was fully underway. Willard was an active participant in the work of reunion, especially as she was working to build a national organization. She saw growth opportunities among Southern women, and her visits to the South and work with Southern women gave her language and strategies to use to promote this growth. Much of this was tied to the growing white supremacy and it is this language that Wells objects to so strongly.

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