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Portrait of American journalist, suffragist and Progressive activist Ida Wells Barnett (1862 - 1931), 1890s. (Photo by R. Gates/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Happy Black History Month! This is the 16th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. Each blog focuses on the life and career of a Black American whose life has shaped American history.

The focus of today’s blog is Ida B. Wells, the journalist, educator, and civil rights activist who wrote and published “A Red Record”. This analysis documented the horrific lynchings and other white mob violence suffered by Black people in the southern U.S. from 1864 to 1894.

The Eldest Sibling

Ida Bell Wells was born into slavery in 1862 in Mississippi. Once the Civil War ended, Wells’s parents became very politically active during the Reconstruction Era. They made sure Ida and all of her younger siblings knew the importance of an education (Women’s History). Unfortunately, Wells lost her parents and her youngest brother at the age of 16. They all contracted yellow fever and passed away in 1878. She then became the sole caregiver to all of her younger siblings. With them, she moved to Memphis so she could teach to support the family (Women’s History).

Activist Journalism

In 1884, at the age of 22, Wells sued a train car company for unfair treatment (Women’s History). During a commute on the train, Wells was kicked out of the car, even though she had a ticket. She ended up winning the case locally, but when the case went federal, it was overturned. During this time, a friend of Wells was lynched, which prompted her to investigate the circumstances of lots of other lynchings. She pulled together a final comprehensive analysis called “A Red Record”. This she published as a pamphlet. She also published pieces in local newspapers about the same document (Women’s History).

Boycotting the World’s Columbian Exposition

Wells received so much hate from racist locals about the document that she was forced to move to Chicago for her own safety (Women’s History). While there, she joined other civil rights activists in boycotting the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The boycott of the world’s fair set in Chicago came from their discrimination towards Black Americans who tried to attend as well as their racist portrayals of Black Americans (Women’s History).

Ostracized From The Suffrage Movement

Two years later, Ida B. Wells married renowned lawyer Ferdinand Barnett (Women’s History). They had four children together, and even after four kids, Wells balanced her activism with juggling motherhood. She traveled internationally to raise more awareness about the lynchings occurring in the South. Although Wells tried to get involved with the Suffrage Movement and raise awareness of lynchings there, she was met with ostracization from the white women leading the movement. Wells then founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Club. She also was present when the NAACP was founded in Niagara Falls, although she was never named an official founder (Women’s History). She passed away in 1931.

Source: Women’s History

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