Ida B. Wells: Nothing Stopped Her from Exposing the TruthFebruary 13, 2009
In recognition of Black History Month, AAUW is profiling women we should never forget who fought to break through barriers. This week we feature Ida Bell Wells (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931), who was an African American teacher, journalist, anti-lynching crusader, civil rights leader, and a women’s rights leader active in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The following feature was written and submitted for AAUW Dialog by Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells and author of Ida in Her Own Words: The Timeless Writings of Ida B. Wells from 1893 (Benjamin Williams Publishing).
“If this work can contribute in any way toward providing this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service.”
—Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862. She started her career as a teacher but eventually became a journalist who impacted the world due to her unrelenting determination to expose the horrors of lynching. She wrote newspaper articles that hit the nerves of the “establishment” that was determined to keep African Americans disenfranchised and subjugated. She convinced thousands to boycott white-owned businesses, including a transportation system that humiliated and ostracized them. She influenced thousands of African Americans to move from Memphis, Tennessee, to Oklahoma because there was no justice in a place where the lawmakers doubled as terrorists. When she finally suggested that white women’s virtue was an excuse to cover the real reason for lynching, her press was destroyed and a price put on her head.
Exiled from the southern part of the United States, she made a new life for herself in the North and meticulously collected and published facts about the lynchings that had taken place. She eventually took her case to the British and published a pamphlet that she distributed at the World’s Fair of 1893 in order to shine international attention on the problem.
After starting a family in 1896, she turned her attention to fairness in the school systems, women’s suffrage, community organizing and job training, political representation, and equal housing. She was also one of the founders of the National Association for Colored Women (NACW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Ida B. Wells became an international figure who fought for equality of African Americans and women throughout her entire lifetime. She died almost 80 years ago in 1931, but her words and passion live on.
“I feel compelled to make her writings available for today’s public and ensure that Ida B. Wells will become more well-known for the incredible contributions she made to this country.”
— Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells