Ida B. Wells

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) was an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader in the civil rights movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Wells dedicated her career to combating prejudice and violence, and advocating for African-American equality—especially that of women.

Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi. At the age of 14, she lost both her parents and her infant brother in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic. She went to work and kept the rest of the family together with the help of her grandmother. Later, moving with some of her siblings to Memphis, Tennessee, Wells found better pay as a teacher. Soon, Wells co-owned and wrote for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper. Her reporting in the newspaper covered incidents of racial segregation and inequality.

In the 1890s, Wells documented lynching in the United States in articles and through her pamphlets called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases, and The Red Record, investigating frequent claims of whites that lynchings were reserved for Black criminals only. Wells exposed lynching as a barbaric practice used by whites in the South to intimidate and oppress African Americans who created economic and political competition—and a subsequent threat of loss of power—for whites.

Wells’s pamphlet set out to tell the truth behind the rising violence in the South against African Americans. At this time, the white press continued to paint the African Americans involved in such incidents as villains and whites as innocent victims. Ida B. Wells was a respected voice in the African-American community in the South that people listened to. Thus, Wells’s pamphlet was needed to show people the truth about this violence and advocate for justice for African Americans in the South. 

A white mob destroyed her newspaper office and presses as her investigative reporting was carried nationally in Black-owned newspapers. Subjected to continued threats, Wells left Memphis for ChicagoIllinois. She married Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895 and had a family while continuing her work writing, speaking, and organizing for civil rights and the women’s movement for the rest of her life.

Wells was outspoken regarding her beliefs as a Black female activist and faced regular public disapproval, sometimes including from other leaders within the civil rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement. She was active in women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement, establishing several notable women’s organizations.

A skilled and persuasive speaker, Wells traveled nationally and internationally on lecture tours. Wells died of kidney disease on March 25, 1931, in Chicago, and in 2020 was posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize special citation “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”

Source: Ida B. Wells – Wikiwand

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells circa 1895 by Cihak and Zima circa 1895
See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ida B. Wells: A Chicago Stories Special Documentary (1 hour)

Ida B Wells with her children, 1909


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