BY SETH WILLIAMS
Ida B. Wells, a founding member of the NAACP and prominent anti-lynching activist, found the voice to advocate for herself and her fellow African-Americans in a time when she held two strikes against her: being black, and being a woman.
Her childhood was hardly one of ease. Born a slave in 1862, Wells found herself orphaned by yellow fever by the age of 16. After dividing her time raising her six siblings, attending Rust College, and teaching, Wells pursued an activist lifestyle beginning with a train ride from her home in Memphis and her job at a rural school. When asked to move to the smoking car, Wells refused, prompting the conductor and several passengers to attempt to physically remove her from the train. After a lengthy court battle which first found in her favor and later was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court, Wells would turn to editorials to pursue her desire for equality against the system that sought to keep blacks inferior to whites.
After three of her friends were lynched following a business dispute in which they were out-performing white competitors, Wells raised her voice to shout the truth about lynching in the American south. She published a pamphlet entitled “Southern Horrors” in 1892, a book entitled “A Red Record” in 1895, and gave numerous lectures on the topic that challenged the “rape myth” that typically precipitated many episodes of lynching. Wells found instead that blacks successfully challenging white authority politically or economically, rather than accusations of rape, were all that lynch mobs typically required to commit heinous acts of murder against their fellow Americans. The exposition of this truth enraged many white southerners, prompting them to destroy a newspaper she was part-owner of and threaten her life, forcing her to flee Memphis.
After time abroad in England where she established the British Anti-Lynching Society, she returned to the United States to settle and marry in Chicago, Illinois. She would later join the Niagara Movement as well as aid Du Bois in his establishment of the NAACP, cementing her place among African Americans’ earliest leaders and helping to intertwine the Women’s Suffrage Movement with the Civil Rights Movement of black Americans.
Read more of the original article on Blackpast.org at http://www.blackpast.org/aah/barnett-ida-wells-1862-1931
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons