Ida B. Wells was a remarkable black journalist, educator, and civil rights activist who was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862. She is widely known for her fierce advocacy against lynching and her role in establishing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She lived from 1862-1931.
Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and was the eldest of eight siblings. Her parents, James and Elizabeth Wells, were both enslaved until emancipation. After their emancipation, they were able to support their family through their work as sharecroppers and instilled a love of education in their children. Tragically, both of her parents and one of her siblings died in a yellow fever epidemic when Wells was only 16 years old.
Early Life and Career
Despite these hardships, Wells continued her education and became a teacher to support her younger siblings. She later moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where she worked as a teacher and eventually became a journalist. It was in Memphis that she began her anti-lynching crusade, which became the focus of her journalistic work. In 1892, after three of her friends were lynched, Wells published a scathing editorial denouncing the lynching of Black people in the South. As a result, a mob destroyed her printing press, forcing her to move to Chicago where she continued her work as a journalist and civil rights activist.
Family and Relationships
Wells married Ferdinand Barnett in 1895, a prominent lawyer and activist who shared her passion for social justice. They had four children together, three sons and a daughter. Wells continued to work tirelessly as a journalist and civil rights advocate while also raising her children.
Impact on the Black Community
Wells’ work as an investigative journalist and activist exposed the deep-seated racism and injustice that pervaded American society during her lifetime. She wrote extensively about the horrors of lynching and worked to hold white supremacists accountable for their crimes. Her work helped to shed light on the ways in which systemic racism affected Black people in the United States, from the violence and terror of lynching to the denial of basic civil rights and freedoms.
Impact on the White Community
Wells’ work challenged the white supremacist power structures that had been entrenched in American society since its inception. Her uncompromising stance against racial violence and discrimination forced white people to confront the harsh realities of the racism that they had helped to perpetuate. While some white people saw Wells as a threat to their way of life, others were inspired by her courage and conviction.
Importance and Influence on Culture
Ida B. Wells’ legacy as a journalist, civil rights activist, and suffragist continues to inspire people around the world. She was a pioneer in the fight for racial justice and equality, and her work helped to lay the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement. Wells’ writing and advocacy helped to shift public opinion on issues of racial justice and paved the way for future generations of activists and organizers.
How to be an Ally
To honor Ida B. Wells’ legacy and support the Black community, it is important for allies to listen to and uplift the voices of Black people, support Black-led organizations, and actively work to dismantle systemic racism in their own communities. This includes supporting policies that promote equity and justice, and engaging in difficult conversations with friends and family members about race and racism.
- “Ida B. Wells-Barnett.” The National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ida-b-wells-barnett.
- “Ida B. Wells-Barnett.” Biography, https://www.biography.com/activist/ida-b-wells.
- “Ida B. Wells.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ida-B-Wells.