The Arapahoe Pinnacle

Ida B. Wells, Nineteenth Century Writer and Fighter

Image via Biography.

Image via Biography.

Eric Gonzalez, Student Life Editor & Entertainment Reporter

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Where would society be today without the help of one heroic woman? Ida B. Wells, a journalist and a civil rights activist, took charge of many issues during her lifetime, working tirelessly to get to the word out about the issues affecting the black community, from race to lynching. 

It all started in May 1884. Wells was on a train ride from Memphis to Nashville. Having bought a first-class ticket for her train ride, the crew members forced her to move to the car for African Americans only. Wells refused to do so. She bought a first class ticket and had every right to sit where she belonged. When she was removed from the train, she bit one of the men on the hand. She later sued the railroad and won a $500 settlement in a circuit court case, only to have the decision overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

This outrage led Wells to the path of writing about issues of race and politics in the South, under the name, “Lola”. A wide variety of her articles were published in black newspapers and periodicals.

Later on, she held a position as a teacher in an all black school in Memphis while working as a journalist and a publisher. Working at this school, she became an activist for all black schools in the city. She was fired from being a critic of their condition in the year 1891.

Then, in the year of 1892, three African African men named Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Steward set up their own grocery store in Memphis, Tenn. In doing so, their store drew African American customers away from a competing, white-owned store in the neighborhood. The owner of the white-owned store wasn’t too pleased; he would frequently argue with the African American owners of the store. One night, Moss and his two men ended up guarding their store against attack from their white competitors and ended up shooting several of the white vandals.

Moss, McDowell, and Stewart were swiftly brought to jail. During those times, an African American had no say if their case involved with a white person. But they would never have had the chance to prove themselves innocent — a lynch mob took them from their cells and murdered all three of them.

This story was then picked up by Wells, and she wrote about it. Then, other articles about the wrongful deaths of other African Americans emerged as she spent two months in the South, gathering as much information on other race-related lynching incidents. One editorial on this subject pushed some of the city’s white population over the edge; a mob broke into her office and destroyed all her equipment.

Luckily, Wells had been traveling to New York City at this time. She was warned that her life would be at risk if she ever returned home to Memphis, so she stayed put and wrote a report on lynching in America for the New York Age, an African American newspaper. The newspaper was run by a former slave, named T. Thomas Fortune.

Later on in her career, Wells wrote a pamphlet called “The Reason Why the Colored American Is Represented in the World’s Colombian Exposition,” due to the fact on the ban on African American exhibitors at the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition.  The pamphlet was about American society’s ideas about a uptoia with blacks and whites being together without any conflict. Her efforts were funded and supported by Frederick Douglass and Ferdinand Barnett. Frederick Douglas was a freed slave and Barnett was a lawyer and editor. Barnett later married Ida in 1895.  In the same year, she published “A Red Record,” a personal examination of lynchings in America.

So, where would African American journalists be if it weren’t for passionate truth-seekers like Ida B Wells? She had remarkable courage, giving voice to the African American community in a time where their voices were all but silenced. She shaped the world of journalism, by sparking important talk about civil-rights issues, and by paving the way for black journalists in the industry. 

Ida B. Wells, a remarkable woman whose work and passion transcend centuries.

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