Monday, August 24, 2015


At 19 Ida B Wells staged her first impromptu protest. A conductor on a Memphis and Charleston train ordered Wells to give up her first class seat in the ladies car and move to the smoker car. Like Rosa Parks would 71 years later, she refused to give up her seat. She even bit one of the conductors as she was physically removed. She sued and won. However, her case was overturned later by the Tennessee Supreme Court. But this barely slowed her down. As her parents had died, she had been raising 3 younger siblings before that first protest. At times she earned her living through teaching. She also wrote columns for newspapers, sometimes under the pseudonym "Iola" By the time she was 30 or so she was a journalist and came to be part owner of a newspaper called the "Free Speech And Headlight."
In 1892 three black men, friends of Ida's, were lynched because the white competitor running a grocery store down the road wanted his competition gone. Ida B was out of town when the lynching of friends took place. But upon her return Ida B turned investigative journalist and wrote several articles exposing what had happened to her friends. Eventually, unable to get justice from a white justice system, encouraged blacks to pack up and move from Memphis,Tennessee to Oklahoma, a location she'd physically went to research prior to making the recommendation to her readers. As white business dried up in town due to the black exodus and Ida B led black boycotts, the calls for Ida herself to be lynched increased. Ida B, was out of town on another investigation when she found herself unable to return home--thanks to warning from friends. Her activist-journalism career guiding her, Ida B Wells went to Chicago, Illinois.

During her anti-lynching campaign(s) Ida B Wells began developing sociological methods --systematic ways of counting and tracking lynching and the circumstances that surrounded lynching-- that would not be recognized as such for years. It's likely that she published results from these methods before a number of European males famous for "having created sociology." She published the results of the lynching investigations she conducted all over the south in small books or pamphlets such as "Southern Horrors" and "Georgia Lynch Law" The NAACP, of which she was a founding member, would continue the work she began more than 20 years before.
By the time the NAACP came to exist Ida B had traveled all over the northern United States and a few locals within the United Kingdom. Her purpose while visiting the U.K. was to cut off investment funds for southern states that engaged in lynching. She got many people in Britain and the Northern United States to sign anti-lynching resolutions.

Wells was sometimes abandoned or undermined by other black people who thought she was "too radical" Men would do things like support her cause (anti-lynching) while attempting to avoid supporting her personally. She rarely stood for this whether the men were white or black. At one church when the pastor was "too busy" to introduce her before giving a speech, she started packing up her stuff to go. The pastor became suddenly became un-busy when he realized Ida was about to leave without speaking. She sometimes called men out on this. According to her diaries, Frederick Douglass, who was guilty of supporting the cause but not her more than once as well, appears to have been confronted quietly in person rather than in public.

Wells was also attacked more directly by white feminists like Frances Willard, who were trying to get the right to vote. White suffragists unacknowledged racism aside, felt they needed southern white women on their side increase their numbers. Therefore, Willard, despite her anti-slavery past, avoided open support of anti-lynching resolutions. Willard would go out of her way to undermine Ida B, sometimes appealing to Frederick Douglass to try and get this undermining done.
Ida B Wells-Barnett Family. Four Children, Spouses, Grandchildren.
Woman, Wife, Mother, and Activist Against Racism and Sexism Until She Died
Ran for political office in 1930, Died 1931

In 1895, Ida B Wells became Ida B Wells-Barnett. And though Ida had 4 children with Ferdinand Barnett, her anti-lynching campaigning barely missed a beat. The only time she was absent from activism/political work was when she was in the late stages of pregnancy or giving birth. Her husband Ferdinand, her activist partner as much as husband, actually asked Ida to leave their home to go investigate lynchings as only she knew how at least once. LINK TO PART 2: