This lady was a great civil rights leader and every American should know who she is.
Ida B. Wells was an abolitionist, an activist, a journalist, an equal rights feminist, and a proponent of equal rights for African Americans.
She was one of the founding members of the NAACP and a leader in the anti-lynching campaign.
She was also a Republican.
When Wells was just 16 she had to drop out of school and get a job as a teacher when tragedy struck her family. Her parents and one of her siblings died from a yellow fever outbreak and Wells took on the caretaker role for her other five siblings.
Biography.com gives some insight into her life and her legacy.
Ida Bell Wells was born to slaves James and Lizzie Wells in Holly Springs, MO on July 16, 1862. She and her parents were emancipated when Ida was just 6 months old.
Ida B. Wells’ parents were active in the Republican Party during Reconstruction. Her father, James, was involved with the Freedman’s Aid Society and helped start Shaw University, a school for the newly freed slaves (now Rust College), and served on the first board of trustees.
It was at Shaw University that Ida B. Wells received her early schooling. However at the age of 16 she had to drop out when tragedy struck her family. Both of her parents and one of her siblings died in a yellow fever outbreak, leaving Wells to care for her other siblings. Ever resourceful, she convinced a nearby country school administrator that she was 18, and landed a job as a teacher.
A major turning point
On one fateful train ride from Memphis to Nashville, in May 1884, Wells reached a personal turning point. Having bought a first-class train ticket to Nashville, she was outraged when the train crew ordered her to move to the car for African Americans, and refused on principle. As she was forcibly removed from the train, she bit one of the men on the hand. Wells sued the railroad, winning a $500 settlement in a circuit court case. However, the decision was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
This injustice led Ida B. Wells to pick up a pen to write about issues of race and politics in the South. Using the moniker “Iola,” a number of her articles were published in black newspapers and periodicals. Wells eventually became an owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, and, later, of the Free Speech.
While working as a journalist and publisher, Wells also held a position as a teacher in a segregated public school in Memphis. She became a vocal critic of the condition of blacks only schools in the city. In 1891, she was fired from her job for these attacks. She championed another cause after the murder of a friend and his two business associates.
On her anti-lynching campaign
A lynching in Memphis incensed Ida B. Wells and led to her to begin an anti-lynching campaign in 1892. Three African-American men — Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart — set up a grocery store. Their new business drew customers away from a white-owned store in the neighborhood, and the white store owner and his supporters clashed with the three men on a few occasions. One night, Moss and the others guarded their store against attack and ended up shooting several of the white vandals. They were arrested and brought to jail, but they didn’t have a chance to defend themselves against the charges. A lynch mob took them from their cells and murdered them.
Wells wrote articles decrying the lynching of her friend and the wrongful deaths of other African Americans. Putting her own life at risk, she spent two months traveling in the South, gathering information on other lynching incidents.
One editorial seemed to push some of the city’s whites over the edge. A mob stormed the office of her newspaper, destroying all of her equipment. Fortunately, Wells had been traveling to New York City at the time. She was warned that she would be killed if she ever returned to Memphis.
Her efforts went all the way to the White House and in 1898, she called on President McKinley to make reforms.
Ida B. Wells established several civil rights organizations. In 1896, she formed the National Association of Colored Women.
After brutal assaults on the African-American community in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, Wells sought to take action: The following year, she attended a special conference for the organization that would later become known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Though she is considered a founding member of the NAACP, Wells later cut ties with the organization; she explained her decision thereafter, stating that she felt the organization, in its infancy at the time she left, lacked action-based initiatives.
Wells also called on President Wilson to stop discriminatory hiring practices for government jobs. She worked for the rights of all women with the National Equal Rights League and fought for women’s suffrage.
She was quite the lady.
Now share this so that others can see what an amazing woman Ida B. Wells was.
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