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When Ida B. Wells Took on Lynching, Threats Forced Her to Leave Memphis

When Ida B. Wells Took on Lynching, Threats Forced Her to Leave Memphis

Journalist Ida B. Wells was already out of town when she realized that an editorial she’d written had caused a riot. In 1892, Wells had left Memphis to attend a conference in Philadelphia, when the office of the newspaper she co-owned was destroyed and her co-editor was run out of town.

“As a result of the editorial, Memphis has just exploded,” says Paula J. Giddings, a professor emerita of Africana studies at Smith College and author of Ida: A Sword Among Lions. “And she is threatened with lynching, herself, if she comes back to Memphis.”

The editorial was about lynching, a form of terrorism with which Wells was painfully familiar. On March 9, a white mob had murdered her friend Thomas Moss and his business partners, Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell, because their People’s Grocery was taking business from a white man’s neighborhood store.

By this time, Wells was already a journalist and minor celebrity. Several years before, a train conductor had kicked her out of the first-class ladies’ car after she refused to move to a segregated carriage. She sued the railroad for segregating its cars, won $500 in a local court (whose ruling the Supreme Court later overturned) and began writing newspaper columns about her lawsuit.

But the murder of her friend Moss prompted her to focus her reporting on lynchings. “This begins kind of a new phase of her work in that she becomes a investigative journalist,” Giddings says.

“She sees of course the stereotypes about black men raping white women,” she continues. This was something lynch mobs frequently accused their victims of. “She starts investigating these accusations, she actually goes to scene of lynchings, she interviews witnesses—she becomes really one of first investigative reporters in this period.”

Using statistics and quantitative data, Wells concluded that “this idea of rape and even criminal behavior is not so much connected to lynching, but that lynching was a means to keep blacks—who were very economically competitive at this point—to keep blacks down,” Giddings says. She also found that in some cases, the “rape” black men were accused of was actually consensual sex with white women.

These conclusions incited a riot while Wells was in Philadelphia. It was too dangerous for her to return to Memphis, so she decided to stay in the north. Over the next several years, she traveled widely in the United States and Europe to talk about lynching. It was in Chicago, though, that she found her new home.

Wells saw the potential for “a real political vanguard in Chicago,” Giddings says. There were many black political organizations and newspapers, as well as a fair amount of interracial activism for the period. Chicago was also where she met Ferdinand Barnett, a widowed lawyer and journalist who supported women’s suffrage. She married him in 1895, changing her last name to the hyphenated “Wells-Barnett”—a pretty unique move at the time.

Wells-Barnett lived in Chicago for the rest of her life. She founded the city’s first black women’s club, first black kindergarten and first black suffrage organization. After women in Illinois won state voting rights in 1913, her suffrage organization helped elect Oscar De Priest as the first black alderman on the Chicago City Council.

“She really is very, very important to the political and civic life of Chicago,” Giddings says. Decades later, the city government formally recognized Wells-Barnett’s contributions. In July 2018, Chicago named a street after her. That same month, activists raised $300,000 to erect a monument to Wells-Barnett, who remained politically active in Chicago until she died in 1931.

“At the very end, a year before her death, she runs for a [Illinois] State Senate seat as an Independent,” Giddings says. “She doesn’t win. But she’s again creating paths for not only blacks but for black women particularly and for women in general.”


What did Ida B Wells believe?

Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist, abolitionist and feminist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African American justice.

Also Know, what political party was Ida B Wells? Wells was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862. She was the oldest daughter of James and Lizzie Wells. During Reconstruction, her parents were active in the Republican Party.

People also ask, what did Ida B Wells say about lynching?

After Ida B. Wells published a column on May 21, 1892, denouncing &ldquothe old thread bare lie&rdquo that lynching was used to &ldquoprotect white womanhood,&rdquo a white mob marched to her office in Memphis, destroyed her presses and left a warning they would kill Wells if she tried to publish her newspaper again.

What impact did Ida B Wells have on society?

She created the Alpha Suffrage Club to promote the right of women to vote. Ida B. Wells was a fiery crusader for African American justice at a time when angry white men indulged in lynching as acceptable behavior. Her determination, courage, ambition and refusal to back down helped change the course of history.


Why did Ida B Wells leave Memphis?

to a deserted railroad yard, and shot them to death. Enraged by their deaths, Wells lashed out at the refusal of Memphis police to arrest the well known killers. She encouraged blacks to protest with boycotts of white-owned stores and public transportation. The lynchings were a turning point in Ida B.

Secondly, why did Ida B Wells became an activist? Activist and writer Ida B. Wells-Barnett first became prominent in the 1890s because she brought international attention to the lynching of African Americans in the South. Wells returned to Memphis, hired a lawyer, and sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. The court decided in her favor, awarding Wells $500.

Similarly, it is asked, what does Ida B Wells say actually caused lynching?

According to Wells, 2,000 men, women, and children were lynched from 1885 to 1900. 2. Wells said lynching was caused by a contempt for law and by race prejudice. Others may cite her personal experience in losing three friends to lynching as her moti- vation.

How did Ida B Wells expose lynching?

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 &ldquoestablishment&rdquo that was determined to keep African Americans disenfranchised and subjugated.


How did Ida Wells work to end lynching?

Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist, abolitionist and feminist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African American justice.

Subsequently, question is, what did Ida B Wells work to end through? What did Ida B. Wells work to end through her muckraking articles? the Standard Oil monopoly. corrupt railroad business practices.

Similarly, what does Ida B Wells say actually caused lynching?

According to Wells, 2,000 men, women, and children were lynched from 1885 to 1900. 2. Wells said lynching was caused by a contempt for law and by race prejudice. Others may cite her personal experience in losing three friends to lynching as her moti- vation.

What happened to Ida B Wells after she began campaigning against lynching?

A mob destroyed the press that printed the Memphis Free Speech she wrote for and her out of town. She settled in Chicago.


What did Ida B Wells believe in?

Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist, abolitionist and feminist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African American justice.

what impact did Ida B Wells have on society? She created the Alpha Suffrage Club to promote the right of women to vote. Ida B. Wells was a fiery crusader for African American justice at a time when angry white men indulged in lynching as acceptable behavior. Her determination, courage, ambition and refusal to back down helped change the course of history.

Also, what did Ida B Wells say about lynching?

After Ida B. Wells published a column on May 21, 1892, denouncing &ldquothe old thread bare lie&rdquo that lynching was used to &ldquoprotect white womanhood,&rdquo a white mob marched to her office in Memphis, destroyed her presses and left a warning they would kill Wells if she tried to publish her newspaper again.

What political party did Ida B Wells belong to?

Wells was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862. She was the oldest daughter of James and Lizzie Wells. During Reconstruction, her parents were active in the Republican Party.


On March 9, 1892, a white mob stormed the Memphis jail, seized three Black men held inside, and brutally lynched them without trial.

Earlier that year, these same three Black men—Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and William "Henry" Stewart—opened the People's Grocery Company in Memphis, Tennessee. Located across the street from a white-owned grocery store that had previously had a monopoly in the local Black community, the men's new business reduced the white store's profits. The venture also threatened the racial order by forcing white businessmen to compete economically with Black businessmen.

In the midst of this tension, a small fight between Black and white children grew into a larger conflict between Black and white men in the area. Afterward, some white men accused the People's Grocery of being a meeting place for Black men planning an attack on white residents. This was largely a pretext to target the store for destruction, and the grocery owners and other Black men gathered with arms to defend the store against attack.

When the white mob attacked the store one evening soon after, shots were exchanged and three white men were wounded. Mr. Moss, Mr. McDowell, and Mr. Stewart were quickly arrested, and sensational newspaper reports published the next day fanned the flames of racial outrage. The lynching came soon after. In his last words before death, Thomas Moss reportedly declared, "Tell my people to go west. There is no justice for them here."

Ida B. Wells, a 29-year-old Black schoolteacher and journalist living in Memphis, was a friend of the three murdered men and was deeply impacted by their deaths. She published an editorial echoing Mr. Moss's last words and urging local Black residents to "save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons." More than 6,000 African Americans heeded her call and left Memphis soon after.

Ms. Wells was later forced to leave Memphis for Chicago due to threats on her own life, but she would devote her entire life to documenting and challenging the injustice of lynching through research, writing, speaking, and activism. No one was ever punished for the lynching deaths of Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and William "Henry" Stewart. They are among at least 20 African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in Shelby County, Tennessee, between 1877 and 1950.


Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells is a giant, not only within the civil rights movement, but in American history. She was an African-American investigative journalist, educator, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. A founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a co-owner of the newspaper Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. Starting her career by investigating and documenting lynching across the United States, she quickly became a formidable figure arguing for civil and women’s rights. She died in 1931 at the age of 68, Ida remains a giant in American history.

Born a slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, one of eight children born to James and Lizzie Wells. James was the son of a white man and an African-American women and became a carpenter’s apprentice. Her mother, however, was sold from her family and struggled to find her family again after the Civil War. Ida was the oldest child and became the sole bread winner when both of her parents died during a fever epidemic. Ida attended the black liberal arts college Rust College in Holly Spring, allowing her to develop the skills needed to become a teacher.

After her parents died, her grandparents wanted to separate the Wells siblings, but Ida refused. When she was away teaching, her other family members would help care for the younger children. They stayed in Holly Springs until two Wells sister died, convincing Ida to move to Memphis, TN and resettle with her aunt. While in Memphis, Ida attended summer classes at Fisk University and Lemoyne-Owens College and surprised many people with her strong feminist and civil rights views.

While riding a train in 1884, Ida was ordered to move form the first-class ladies car and move to the smoking cars. Ida refused and she was dragged out of the car. She wrote a newspaper article about the experience and sued the railroad and won $500 awards. However, the Tennessee Supreme Court shot down the verdict and made Ida pay court fees.

After her experience on the train, Ida continued to teach, but also started her career as a journalist. She became an editor for the Evening Star, wrote articles about The Living way weekly newspaper, and became an editor and co-editor of the Free Speech and Headlight. In 1891, Ida was fired from her teaching position, and recommitted herself to the newspapers.

In 1889, Ida’s friend Thomas Moss was entangled in a fight between a group of white men attacking a young African American by. Moss owned a grocery shop and two of his employees rushed to protect the boy. Eventually, a sheriff came down and arrested Moss and his employees. In 1892, men in black masks took Moss, McDowell, and Stewart out of their cells and to a rail yard in Ohio and executed them.

Ida was devastated by the loss of her friends and began to investigate other lynchings and published an editorial about her findings. Her newspaper office was burnt to the ground and she left Memphis and moved to Chicago.

On 1892, Ida published her lynching investigation in a pamphlet called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Phases, claiming that Southerners cried rape to justify lynching African-Americans that they felt threatened by, especially economically. She recommended African-Americans arm themselves to defend against lynching. She followed this up with the pamphlet The Red Record covering lynching since the Civil War and the struggles of African-Americans.

Ida had hope that white Americans would turn against lynching, but she knew that African-Americans needed to arm themselves to be truly safe and she went to Britain to bring economic pressure on white America. She went to England to speak about her research and agreed to write for the only newspaper that decried lynching, the Daily Inter-Ocean. This made Ida the first paid woman correspondent for a mainstream white newspaper.

In 1895, Ida married Ferdinand L. Barnett, another journalist and civil rights activist. Barnett founded the Chicago Conservator, which Ida wrote for and even became an editor for.

While Ida remained dedicated to her work, she had gained a notorious reputation and many traditional activists saw her as a threat and too radical. This seems to have prevented her from being included in the list of founders of the NAACP.

While Ida was heavily involved with the civil rights movement, she was also involved with the Suffrage movement. This started with her founding of two Chicago Women’s Clubs in response to a new state law that gave women the right to vote in certain elections. She also organized the National Associations of Colored Women’s Clubs and the National Afro-American Council. While she believed all women should have the right to vote, she also saw the suffrage movement as a chance for African-American women to become involved in their own communities. This led to a public fight with Frances Willard, the president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a strong advocacy group for women’s suffrage. Ida claimed that Frances did not condemn the lynching occurring in the South and even blamed African-Americans for the defeat of the temperance legislation. This may have also contributed to her exclusion from the National Associations of Colored Women’s Club in 1899

Despite these setbacks, Ida continued to fight for equality and human rights until her death, in 1931 at the age of 68.

Image Sources: public domain, wikicommons

Sources: Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula Giddings. Published by Harper Collins in 2009


Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Anti-lynching and the White House

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an American investigative journalist, educator, and activist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 1 An African-American woman of “striking courage and conviction,” she received national recognition as the leader of the anti-lynching crusade. 2 Wells-Barnett sought a federal anti-lynching law that would convict forms of “violence in which a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, executes a presumed offender, often after inflicting torture and corporal mutilation.” 3 In response to the frequency of lynchings throughout the American South, Wells-Barnett brought her campaign to the White House in search of reform. Her petitions spanned seven presidential administrations from William McKinley to Herbert Hoover. Despite the little support she received from presidents, Wells-Barnett’s mission was not deterred. The history of lobbying for anti-lynching legislation at the White House has been undeniably inspired by the legacy of Wells-Barnett. Many successive African-American activists have continued this campaign in pursuit of national anti-lynching legislation this goal was finally realized in 2020. Even thought it took more than a century to enact such legislation, it would not have been possible without the historic efforts of Wells-Barnett.

Wells-Barnett was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862. 4 Following the death of her parents, Wells-Barnett and her younger siblings moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1882, to live with a relative. 5 In 1885, she entered journalism and became part-owner of the Free Speech newspaper in 1889. 6 On March 9, 1892, Wells-Barnett learned that a mob had lynched Thomas Mass, a grocery store owner, along with two of his workers, Henry Stewart and Calvin McDowell. 7 All three men were African-Americans. Moss was a friend of Wells-Barnett’s and following his murder, she began investigating mob violence and documenting lynchings throughout the South. 8

Ida B. Wells, portrait photograph, ca. 1893-1894.

Ida B. Wells Papers, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Wells-Barnett published an impassioned editorial regarding the recent lynchings in the Free Speech newspaper on May 21, 1892. 9 Six days later, while Wells-Barnett was away attending a conference in New York City, a mob responded to her article by burning down her press office and threatening her life if she ever returned to Memphis. 10 As a result, Wells-Barnett remained in New York City until 1893 when she moved to Chicago, Illinois. 11 While living in the North, Wells-Barnett continued to write about lynchings, particularly those taking place in the South. 12 She began publishing her research in a pamphlet titled, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, in 1892. 13 The pamphlet “is an indictment of the lynchings perpetrated against” African-Americans in the years following the Civil War. 14 Southern Horrors was the culmination of Wells-Barnett’s intensive investigative work and provides eyewitness accounts and statistics for lynchings reported in newspapers across the South and North. 15 Southern Horrors was a groundbreaking text in that Wells-Barnett provided documentary and statistical evidence that white men were rarely punished for perpetrating sexual violence against African-American women while African-American men were murdered by mobs for having consensual relations with white women. 16 By demonstrating that about thirty percent of the African-American victims of “lynch mobs had actually been accused of rape,” Wells-Barnett undermined the notion that lynchings always occurred in response to rape. 17

Furthermore, Wells-Barnett challenged a fundamental assumption regarding lynching by providing evidence that African-American men were not the exclusive victims of mob violence, but rather that African-American women were subjected to lynchings as well. 18 For example, on August 20, 1886, a mob took Eliza Woods from a jail in Jackson, Tennessee, and hanged her for allegedly poisoning her employer. 19 In an editorial for The Gate City Press, Wells-Barnett stated that Eliza Woods “was taken from the county jail and stripped naked and hung up in the courthouse yard and her body riddled with bullets and left exposed to view!” 20 Between 1880 and 1930, at least one hundred and thirty African-American women were murdered by lynch mobs. 21

Ida B. Wells, standing left, with Maurine Moss, widow of Tom Moss, lynched in Memphis March 9, 1892, with Tom Moss Jr., born circa 1893.

Ida B. Wells Papers, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

In 1895, Wells-Barnett published The Red Record, the first documented statistical report on lynching. 22 The book described lynching in the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and noted that during Reconstruction, most Americans did not fully realize the growing rate of violence against African-Americans in the South. 23 Although “the numbers were lower, mirroring the lower concentration of Black residents,” in northern and western states, racialized lynchings—which had grown increasingly synonymous with hangings—committed outside of the South featured many of the same characteristics. 24 With the book’s publication, Wells-Barnett became one of the first prominent African-American women journalists in the U.S. and one of the first data reporters, decades before the discipline formally existed. 25 Her works were critical in drawing attention to the use of lynching as a means of terrorizing and oppressing free African-Americans, who were perceived as a threat to existing economic, social, and political structures following the abolition of slavery. 26

Having earned national renown, Wells-Barnett used her platform to petition the White House to support legislative reforms. In response to the lynching of Frazier Baker—the newly-appointed postmaster of Lake City, South Carolina—and his daughter on February 22, 1898, Wells-Barnett sent two letters to President William McKinley, urging him to submit a recommendation to Congress. 27 On March 3, 1898, Wells-Barnett appealed on behalf of the Ida B. Wells Women’s Club of Chicago, Illinois, for President McKinley to “apprehend and punish those responsible for the shooting.” 28 The Ida B. Wells Women’s Club sought support for Frazier Baker’s widow and children stating that “the nation owes that family the support and maintenance of which they were deprived by that brutal mob, in so far as money can requite their loss, these helpless ones should be indemnified.” 29 Wells-Barnett believed that this request for compensation would be successful as President McKinley had set a precedent “whereby the U.S. paid a considerable amount of money” to the direct descendants of three Italian citizens who were lynched while visiting New Orleans in 1896. 30 Furthermore, during President Cleveland’s administration, several Chinese subjects were lynched at Rock Springs, Wyoming on September 2, 1885. 31 In response, President Cleveland granted China’s demands that “the Chinese subjects be fully indemnified for all losses and injuries they had sustained.” 32 In closing, Wells-Barnett wrote that the members of the Ida B. Wells Women’s Club of Chicago “come under the Stars and Stripes, believing that the plea of an outraged American citizen should be as potent for protection and justice as the demand of a frowning Power.” 33

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, with husband, Ferdinand, and daughter, Alfreda, with son Herman K. Barnett in window in background, at 3624 Grand Boulevard (now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), Chicago, August 1919.

Ida B. Wells Papers, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Later that month, Wells-Barnett expressed her frustrations regarding the surge in lynchings in a typewritten, four-page letter to President McKinley, sent with a letter by Republican Senator Shelby Moore Cullom of Illinois. 34 In this letter, dated March 19, 1898, Senator Cullom introduces Wells-Barnett to President McKinley, “urging him to give much consideration to what she has to say regarding the murder of the postmaster and his daughter” and any ‘counsel and advice you think proper in the premises.’” 35 On March 22, 1898, Wells-Barnett, along with eight Illinois congressmen, visited the White House to bring their protest directly to President McKinley himself. 36

During the White House visit, Wells-Barnett gave a petition to President McKinley in which she stated:

For nearly twenty years lynching crimes, which stand side by side with Armenian and Cuban outrages, have been committed and permitted by this Christian nation. Nowhere in the civilized world save the U.S. of America do men, possessing all civil and political power, go out in bands of 50 and 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death a single individual, unarmed and absolutely powerless. Statistics show that nearly 10,000 American citizens have been lynched in the past 20 years. To our appeals for justice the stereotyped reply has been that the government could not interfere in a state matter. Postmaster Baker’s case was a federal matter, pure and simple. He died at his post of duty in defense of his country’s honor, as truly as did ever a soldier on the field of battle. We refuse to believe this country, so powerful to defend its citizens abroad, is unable to protect its citizens at home. Italy and China have been indemnified by this government for the lynching of their citizens. We ask that the government do as much for its own. 37

Following her visit, President McKinley forwarded the document and the cover letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, ordering that a formal investigation be conducted. 38 After fourteen months, “a Federal grand jury found that there was sufficient evidence to charge [thirteen] white men with conspiracy to deprive Frazier and Julia Baker of their civil rights.” 39 Legal deliberations resulted in a mistrial after which the Department of Justice did not pursue the case any further. 40 Despite Wells-Barnett’s appeals, President McKinley withheld support for a national anti-lynching law. 41 Wells-Barnett remained in Washington, D.C. for another five weeks. 42 During this time, Wells-Barnett lobbied Congress for a national anti-lynching law, introduced by Illinois Congressman William E. Lorimer. 43 Lorimer’s bill, however—which he presented before the House of Representatives—did not become official legislation. 44 Also during this time, North Carolina Congressman George White—who was the only African-American member of Congress—was lobbying for the passage of a federal anti-lynching bill. 45 White presented his bill before the House of Representatives in 1900, and although it never made it “out of committee,” it marked the first of what would become nearly two hundred attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation. 46

As Wells-Barnett’s crusade stretched into the twentieth century, she now turned to the Theodore Roosevelt administration in hopes of receiving federal support regarding the anti-lynching campaign. President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded William McKinley following his death on September 14, 1901. 47 President Roosevelt had developed a reputation of providing federal intervention to prevent lynchings. In 1903, the president issued a public statement in support of Indiana Governor Winfield T. Durbin’s use of a state militia to prevent a local lynching. 48 Moreover, after being “deeply troubled” by a lynching in Wilmington, Delaware, President Roosevelt maintained “that participation in a lynching or even viewing its aftermath was inherently demoralizing.” 49 He stated, “There are certain hideous sights, which when once seen, can never be wholly erased from the mental retina.” 50 Moreover, President Roosevelt warned that the impact was “‘a thousand fold stronger’ for participants: ‘Whoever in any part of our country has ever taken part in lawlessly putting to death a criminal by the dreadful torture of fire must for ever after have the awful spectacle of his own handiwork seared into his brain and soul. He can never again be the same man.’” 51

Letter from Ida B. Wells to “Mr. Dawes.”

National Archives (NAID 578368).

President Roosevelt made several controversial decisions regarding race-related issues that caused southern segregationists to criticize him heavily. 52 President Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington, public intellectual and founder of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School (now Tuskegee University), to have dinner with him at the White House on October 16, 1901. 53 Disagreements over African-American political appointments, including those of former administrations, “plagued Roosevelt” and he sought Washington’s counsel on several matters. 54 News of the dinner spread and by October 18, 1901, President Roosevelt was faced with openly hostile reactions from southern newspapers and criticisms of his judgement from northern newspapers. 55 This backlash from across the nation left its mark on the president, who had not anticipated such a reaction. While President Roosevelt continued to correspond with Washington, he never invited Washington to the White House again. 56 Although troubled by the persistence of lynchings across the nation, President Roosevelt maintained his appeals to public morality and sentiment rather than proactively instituting federal reforms to effectively respond to the crimes being perpetrated against the victims of mob violence. 57

Succeeding administrations, such as that of President William Howard Taft, were faced with the continued spread of lynchings nationwide. In 1912, an African-American man in Kentucky “was tied up on an opera house stage and tickets were sold for the right to riddle him with bullets.” 58 Following this horrific event, members of the Washington, D.C. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.)—an organization which Wells-Barnett helped found—urged President Taft to intervene. 59 President Taft, however, preferred to leave the issue to the states. 60 In 1919, the N.A.A.C.P. organized a “national anti-lynching conference at Carnegie Hall and produced the report, ‘An Address to the Nation on Lynching,’ signed by former President Taft.” 61 Although he was not particularly active or vocal regarding mob violence and lynching while in office, President Taft did agree to support the anti-lynching crusade following his presidency. 62

The anti-lynching campaign found considerably less support during the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. The day before President Wilson’s 1913 inauguration, the first national parade for women's suffrage was scheduled to take place on Pennsylvania Avenue. 63 Wells-Barnett had returned to Washington, D.C. intending to march alongside women from across the nation, as one of the first activities of her Alpha Suffrage Club founded in January 1913. 64 When “white women from the South” learned that African-American women intended to march, “they threatened to withdraw.” 65 As a compromise, the parade organizers created “a separate contingent for African-American women” at the back of the parade. 66 Wells-Barnett, however, refused to comply with this segregation. She stated, “Either I will go with you or not at all…I am not taking this stand because I personally wish for recognition. I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race.” 67 She waited in the crowd until the “parade was underway and then slipped into the first section and marched boldly forward” passing the White House along the parade route. 68 The parade overshadowed President Wilson’s inauguration as the suffragists clearly demonstrated that they would not be ignored. 69 Their persistent activism, frequent clashes with the Wilson administration, and pressure on federal and state legislators eventually resulted in the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. 70 This victory, however, was not shared by all American women. Wells-Barnett’s suffrage campaign for the rights of African-American women continued, as did her efforts in pursuit of anti-lynching legislation.

Wells-Barnett marching with other women suffragists in a parade in Washington D.C., 1913.

Capper&rsquos Weekly (Topeka, Kansas) 01 August 1914, pg. 3.

In the fall of 1913, Wells-Barnett along with civil rights leader, William Monroe Trotter, met with President Wilson at the White House to express dismay over Jim Crow laws. 71 Over the next year, despite their efforts segregation only worsened nationally. 72 Throughout his presidency, Wilson supported the segregation of Black federal employees in the workplace. 73 Furthermore, President Wilson hesitated to issue public statements condemning lynching and mob violence. 74 On April 26, 1918, Wells-Barnett sent a letter to the president addressing the segregation and discrimination in army units during World War I. 75 In July 1918, due to mounting foreign policy concerns, President Wilson delivered a speech “condemning mobs and vigilante violence” against African-Americans. 76 He related mob violence as counterproductive to the war effort and eventually, previous bills “tied to the war effort were soon expanded” to protect African-American soldiers and their families during the wartime and all African-American citizens “regardless of wartime necessity.” 77 Although President Wilson was reluctant to support the anti-lynching crusade, his successor, would prove more decisive on the matter.

Suffrage picketers marching along Pennsylvania Avenue on March 4, 1917.

Library of Congress/Records of the National Woman's Party.

President Harding was a progressive Republican who advocated for civil rights for African-Americans and women’s suffrage. On October 21, 1921, President Warren G. Harding delivered a speech in which he publicly condemned lynching. 78 In response to President Harding’s speech, civil rights activist and scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that although the president qualified his demands for social equality, they nevertheless “stand out so clearly in his speech that he must be credited with meaning to give them their real significance.” 79 According to Du Bois, it was in this way that “the President made a braver, clearer utterance than Theodore Roosevelt ever dared to make or than William Taft or William McKinley ever dreamed of.” 80 Public response to President Harding’s speech was largely negative and indicative of the difficult road that lay before anti-lynching activists.

President Harding supported the Anti-Lynching Bill–known as the Dyer Bill–introduced by Congressman Leonidas Dyer of Missouri, during the Wilson administration in 1918. 81 This bill would have made lynching a federal crime, penalized local officials for negligence, and fined a county $10,000 if a lynching occurred in its jurisdiction. 82 During Harding’s administration, the Dyer Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on January 26, 1922, “and was given a favorable report” by the Senate Committee “assigned to report on it in July 1922.” 83 On June 14, 1922, thousands of African-Americans participated in a silent protest parade past the White House against lynching and urged for the passage of the Dyer Bill. 84 Among those who marched were individuals belonging to the N.A.A.C.P. and the National Association of Colored Women (N.A.C.W.), both of which Wells-Barnett helped found. Despite President Harding’s’ support of the Dyer Bill and African-American protests, the bill was halted by a filibuster in the Senate. 85 Some African-American activists, however, regarded this defeat as a victory because it caused the federal government to recognize lynching as a nationwide issue and demonstrated the persistence of African-Americans in their crusade for justice in the form of federal anti-lynching legislation. 86

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, standing portrait photograph, ca. 1920.

Ida B. Wells Papers, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Despite the barriers she encountered, locally and nationally, Wells-Barnett remained committed to anti-lynching activism. By disrupting the “rhetorical link between lynching and black criminality,” Wells-Barnett “undermined romantic notions of lynching as an expression of justice.” 87 Consequently, local communities began to see an “association with lynching as undesirable.” 88 Wells-Barnett’s activism was instrumental in establishing the “discursive space in which future debates” on American lynching would take place. 89 Wells-Barnett died on March 25, 1931, in Chicago “as the terror of the lynching era still raged and before the legacy of her tireless dedication was fully realized.” 90 Even after her death, her influence continued and affected how the public and future lawmakers responded to lynching and mob violence.

More than two decades after Wells-Barnett was laid to rest, a horrific lynching stirred the nation. On August 28, 1955, while visiting family in Money, Mississippi, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was “brutally murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman four days earlier.” 91 When Till’s body was recovered, it was unrecognizable. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, requested that her son’s body be returned to their home in Chicago, Illinois, where she decided to have an open-casket funeral so that “all the world could see” what had happened to her son. 92 Jet, an African-American weekly magazine, published a photograph of Till’s disfigured corpse. 93 This photograph enabled the story of Till’s lynching to circulate quickly, reaching many Americans who responded in shock and horror. 94

Photograph of Emmett Till with his mother, Mamie Till Mobley.

On September 2, 1955, Till-Mobley sent a telegram to President Dwight Eisenhower, along with many civil rights organizations petitioning on behalf of her son. 95 In her letter, Till-Mobley stated, “I the mother of Emmett Louis still am pleading that you personally see that justice is meted out to all persons involved in the beastly lynching of my son in Money, Miss.” 96 Till-Mobley also requested to meet with President Eisenhower at the White House, but having not inquired about the investigation, the president did not respond. 97 The disregard and unwillingness to intervene displayed by federal authorities are summarized in a memo by Director of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover stated, “There has been no allegation made that the victim [Emmett Till] has been subjected to the deprivation of any right or privilege which is secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States. ” 98 After not receiving aid from the White House, Till-Mobley traveled to Sumner, Mississippi for the trial of her son’s murderers on September 23, 1955. 99 The all-white jury deliberated for less than an hour before issuing a verdict of “not guilty” on account of the inability to identify Till’s body. 100 The verdict sparked national outrage and brought to light the “brutality of Jim Crow segregation in the South.” 101 Despite the protests, federal anti-lynching legislation was delayed for another sixty-five years after the brutal murder of Emmett Till.

In 2019, the Senate passed the “Justice for Victims of Lynching Act,” introduced by the chamber's three African-American senators: Kamala D. Harris (Democrat from California), Tim Scott (Republican from South Carolina), and Cory Booker (Democrat from New Jersey). 102 The bill, however, was never passed by the House of Representatives. 103 According to Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Wells-Barnett, Harris continued Wells-Barnett’s “unfinished anti-lynching work, quoting her on the Senate floor.” 104 Although the “law still has not passed,” Harris and Wells-Barnett are “linked together in that quest for justice.” 105

From left: Walter Reed, Willie Reed, Mrs. Mamie Bradley, mother of Emmett Till, Michigan congressman Charles Diggs, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, and Amanda Bradley, at the trial Emmett Till's murder. 1955.

The persistent efforts and steady vision of Wells-Barnett, and many other anti-lynching activists, finally materialized in 2020. On February 26, 2020, the House of Representatives “overwhelmingly passed legislation that would make lynching a federal hate crime, more than 100 years since the first such measure was introduced in Congress.” 106 The bill, H.R.35, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act—sponsored by Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat from Illinois—“comes after lawmakers tried, and failed, to pass anti-lynching bills nearly 200 times.” 107 Between 1882 and 1968, “at least 4,742 people, mostly African Americans, were reported lynched” in the U.S. in “all but four states” and ninety-nine percent of “perpetrators escaped state or local punishment.” 108 In 2005, the Senate approved “a resolution apologizing for its failure to enact anti-lynching legislation.” 109 Mary Landrieu, who was then a Democratic Senator from Louisiana, pointed to the impact of these decades of inaction, “declaring that ‘there may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility.’” 110 Representative Rush stated that today, “‘we are still being confronted with the same violent racism and hatred that took the life of Emmett and so many others.’” 111

House Passes Rush Antilynching Legislation.

United States House of Representatives Press Release.

Wells-Barnett’s activism has inspired organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which created the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. 112 This memorial, set on a six-acre site, “uses sculpture, art, and design to contextualize racial terror.” 113 The site includes a memorial square with 800 six-foot monuments to “symbolize thousands of racial terror lynching victims in the United States and the counties and states where this terrorism took place.” 114 The names of lynching victims are “inscribed on columns suspended from the ceiling.” 115 The monument also includes a reflection space created in honor of Wells-Barnett. 116 Consistent with the ideals established by Wells-Barnett in her anti-lynching crusade, the EJI hopes to inspire communities across the nation to “enter an era of truth-telling about racial injustice and their own local histories.” 117

On May 4, 2020, Wells-Barnett was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African-Americans during the era of lynching.” 118 Although Wells-Barnett did not live to see the fulfillment of her life-long goal, her national crusade—spanning from Memphis, Tennessee to the White House in Washington, D.C.—made the passage of a federal anti-lynching bill in 2020 possible. She will be remembered always as an African-American woman of striking courage and remarkable conviction. 119

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, wearing "Martyred Negro Soldiers" button, ca. 1917-1919.

Ida B. Wells Papers, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library


Why Ida B. Wells Is Significant To Black History

How best does one refer to this black history icon: civil rights activist, suffragist, teacher, author, feminist, journalist, or anti-lynching activist? Wells was all of this and more in a time when the USA kept young, and innocent black folks were being lynched, even when in police custody.

On March 9, 1892, a white mob stormed a Memphis jail, seized three Black men held inside, and brutally lynched them without trial. These victims were Well’s friends, Will Stewart, Tom Moss, and Calvin McDowell. She took it upon herself to put her skills to the work and covered blacks’ lynching previously unreported. Wells researched more than 700 lynchings in America, mostly done on the road for months, and armed with a pistol.

With too many death threats and her newspaper offices and equipment destroyed, Wells moved down north to Chicago.

One of her main contributions to black history was co-founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1898. She saw her take her anti-lynching campaign to the White House when she led a Washington D.C protest.

She fought for improved educational opportunities for black students and opposed the idea of segregated schools, being a teacher herself.


What is Ida B Wells full name?

Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist, abolitionist and feminist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African American justice.

Secondly, was Ida B Wells a muckraker? Ida B. Wells-Barnett, known for much of her public career as Ida B. Wells, was an anti-lynching activist, a muckraking journalist, a lecturer, and a militant activist for racial justice. She lived from July 16, 1862 to March 25, 1931.

Regarding this, what was Ida B Wells newspaper called?

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862 &ndash March 25, 1931) was an African-American investigative journalist, educator, and an early leader in the civil rights movement. Soon, Wells co-owned and wrote for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper. Her reporting covered incidents of racial segregation and inequality.

How did Ida B Wells change the world?

Ida is remembered as one of the early leaders in the fight for African-American Civil Rights. Her campaign against lynching helped to bring to light the injustice of the practice to the rest of the United States and the world. Ida died from kidney disease in Chicago on March 25, 1931.


Watch the video: Waldemar Januszczak Explores The Art Of The Dark Ages. Age of Light. Timeline (December 2021).

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