Ida B. Wells

Historical Figures

Ida B. Wells

(1862 – 1931)

Ida B. Wells was born enslaved, and became a crusader for equality and justice.  She had the courage to confront the public with the hypocrisies taking place in America, even after threat of death. She became a journalist, writing about lynching, racism, sexism, education, employment, and much more.  She founded multiple organizations to help the African American community.  She help build schools and housing developments for the community, and even ran for public office in the state senate.

In 1884, she purchased a first class train ticket from Memphis to Nashville.  When the conductor found out she was African American, she was asked to move to the “Colored” train car.  She absolutely refused, so she was forcibly removed from the train.
On March 9th, 1892, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Henry Stewart were dragged out of jail in Memphis, TN and lynched.  On May 21st Ida wrote about this lynching and three others, warning white men that they will “overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction.”  Because of her article, the Free Speech newspaper she owned was destroyed, and her life was threatened.

The death threats never phased her, and she continued to research and write about lynching. On June 25th, 1892 she wrote Southern Horrors:  Lynch Law in All Its Phases, which was published in the New York Age.  She became the leading force against lynching in America.
In 1893, she boycotted the World’s Columbian Exposition, which excluded African American involvement.  She founded the National Association for Colored Women in 1896, and led an anti-lynching protest in Washington D.C. in 1898.  She helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.  In 1910 she founded the Negro Fellowship League, and in 1913 she founded Chicago’s Alpha Suffrage Club.  In 1929 and 1930, she decided to run for state senator in her local district, but was defeated.  This was unprecedented at the time for an African American woman to run for state office.

Wells, Ida B., Crusade for Justice:  The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, Edited by Alfred M. Duster, University of Chicago Press, 1970
Giddings, Paula J., Ida:  A Sword Among Lions:  Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching, HarperCollins, 2008