Friday 11 August 2023


Ida B. Wells Barnett (1862-1931) was a teacher, journalist, activist, civil rights Leader, and women’s rights pillar. Born into enslavement, her parents died of yellow fever in 1878. The oldest of five, Ida worked to support her siblings in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She attended Rust College and later taught school in Memphis, Tennessee.

She successfully (1884) sued the Chesapeake Ohio Railroad after a conductor ordered her from her paid first-class seat into a crowded, uncomfortable smoking car. The ruling was overturned on appeal, to which she lamented, “There is no justice in this land for us.”

Wells became an “antilynching crusader,” following the lynching of Thomas Moss, Wells’ godchild’s father and owner of the People’s Grocery. Moss, along with his two partners - Calvin McDowell and William Stewart - were arrested when the white owner of a competing store instigated a confrontation with law enforcement. A cabal of 75 mask-wearing white men dragged the three from the jail and killed them in cold blood.

Wells’ chronicled the heinousness of lynchings in her 1892 book, Southern Horrors, and subsequent publications. She called out the old threadbare lie that Negro men rape white women. “If Southern [white] men are not careful, a conclusion might be reached which will be very damaging to the reputation of their women,” she editorialized, prompting a white mob to destroy her Free Speech newspaper, and forcing her to leave Memphis.

Wells continued her anti-lynching campaign from New York and later Chicago. She was one of the few Black women who marched in the Women’s Suffrage March in 1913, refusing the request of white suffragists to join the back of the march.

Wells Barnett was proudly “the thorn in the side of women’s and civil rights activists.” WEB DuBois deliberately excluded her from the founding meetings of the NAACP because she was perceived as “too radical.” The US government labeled her a “race agitator” during World War I.

Wells was finally awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020.

Written by Dr. Julianne Malveaux

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