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Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells Ida B. Wells


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Wells-Barnett, Ida B (1862–1931), journalist, editor, diarist, autobiographer, lecturer, suffragist, antilynching crusader, and civil rights activist The essays, pamphlets, and newspaper articles of Ida B Wells-Barnett shaped the post-Reconstruction discourse on race, while her personal narratives, including two diaries, a travel journal, and an autobiography, recorded the personal struggle of a professional woman to define African American womanhood in a pivotal era of American history A complex woman of strong character and independent thought, Wells was shaped by firm moral convictions and profound religious beliefs Her militant ideology of resistance, which found expression through the pen and at the podium, continued the tradition of resistance initiated by earlier African American writers and thinkers such as David Walker, Maria W Stewart, Frederick Douglass, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper The eldest of eight children, Ida B Wells was born to Jim and Elizabeth Warrenton Wells in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on 16 July 1862 Wells attended Shaw University (later Rust College) until the deaths of her parents and youngest brother during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878.

Only sixteen years old, she became a county schoolteacher, supporting her brothers and sisters on a salary of just twenty-five dollars a month In 1882 or 1883 she began teaching in Woodstock, Tennessee, a rural community in Shelby County, but moved to Memphis when she obtained a position in the public schools in 1884 That same year Wells sued the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad after she was forcibly removed from the first-class ladies' coach In December 1884 the circuit court ruled in her favor, but three years later the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the decision That experience prompted Wells to write letters to Memphis weeklies and, later, to African American newspapers like the Detroit Plaindealer, Gate City Press, and New York Freeman Early articles, such as “Our Women” and “Race Pride,” reveal the young journalist's increasing interest in issues of gender and race In 1886 Wells became “editress” of the Evening Star and began writing under the pen name Iola for a religious paper, the Living Way, earning the praise of newspapermen such as I Garland Penn, who called her a militant journalist Between 1885 and 1887 Ida B Wells kept a diary describing her struggle as a single professional woman to forge an independent life committed to work, self-improvement, and racial uplift.

She recorded acts of mob violence and the loss of her suit; she wrote about conferences in Kansas and Kentucky, where she was elected secretary of the Negro Press Association and was invited to speak on “Women in Journalism or How I Would Edit” Two years later, she bought an interest in the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight and became a full-time journalist in 1891, when she lost her teaching position because of editorials attacking inferior segregated schools After three African American grocers were brutally murdered by a white Memphis mob on 9 March 1892, Wells wrote fiery editorials urging citizens to flee the city She maintained that lynching was a racist strategy to eliminate independent and prosperous Negroes, while the charge of rape, she suggested, often masked consensual relations between white women and African American men Whites were so incensed by these allegations that they destroyed her newspaper office while Wells was away and dared her to return to Memphis Unintimidated by threats, Wells kept a gun in her house and advised that “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home” (Southern Horrors, 1892) Meanwhile she bought an interest in the New York Age, wrote two weekly columns entitled “Iola's Southern Field,” and intensified her campaign against lynching through lectures, editorials, and carefully researched, well-documented pamphlets: Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892); A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, 1892, 1893, and 1894 (1895); and Mob Rule in New Orleans (1900) A forceful speaker and powerful writer, Wells uses strong, concrete language to examine the economic and political causes of racial oppression In her writing she analyzes racist sexual ideology, exposes the collusion between terrorists and community leaders, and urges African Americans to resist oppression through boycotts and emigration In 1893 Wells cowrote and printed The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the Columbian Exposition-the Afro-American's Contribution to Columbia Literature to protest the exclusion of African Americans from the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

That same year, convinced that international pressure might serve the antilynching cause, she undertook a lecture tour of Great Britain On the voyage to England she began a short and spirited travel journal, which was later published in her autobiography When she returned to England in 1894 for a six-month tour, Wells wrote a series of articles entitled “Ida B Wells Abroad” for the Chicago Inter-Ocean After her 27 June 1895 marriage to Ferdinand L Barnett, a Chicago lawyer, newspaperman, and widower with two sons, Wells-Barnett bought the Chicago Conservator from her husband She continued to write following the births of her children, Charles Aked, Herman Kohlsaat, Ida B Wells, Jr, and Alfreda M Some of her published essays during this period include “Lynching and the Excuse for It” (1901), “Booker T.

Washington and His Critics” (1904), and “Our Country's Lynching Record” (1913) Wells-Barnett broadened her reformist activities and took up the suffragist cause She had organized the Ida B Wells Club in 1893; she later founded the Alpha Suffrage Club and cofounded the Cook County League of Women's Clubs She was elected secretary of the National Afro-American Council and called for a conference that led to the formation of the NAACP In 1910 Wells-Barnett formed the Negro Fellowship League to employ southern migrants, using her salary as a probation officer to support the league Her differences with race leaders became apparent when she challenged the accommodationism of Booker T Washington and the integrationist leanings of W E B.

Du Bois, while supporting Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association Wells-Barnett continued her crusade against violence into her fifties In 1918 she covered the race riot in East St Louis, Illinois, and wrote a series of articles on the riot for the Chicago Defender Four years later she returned south to investigate the indictment for murder of twelve innocent Arkansas farmers She then wrote The Arkansas Race Riot (1922) and raised money to publish and distribute one thousand copies of her report Throughout her final years, she continued to write In 1928 Wells-Barnett began an autobiography, which was edited and published posthumously by her daughter, Alfreda Duster, and she kept a diary in 1930 that depicts an active and vital woman attending meetings and lectures while campaigning for election to the Illinois State Senate After a sudden illness, she died in Chicago on 25 March 1931 Ida B.

Wells-Barnett was one of the most outstanding women of the late nineteenth century She was a militant thinker and writer whose essays, pamphlets, and books provide a theoretical analysis of lynching; she was a reformer whose insistence on economic and political resistance to oppression laid the foundation for the modern civil rights movement; and she was an accomplished diarist and autobiographer whose personal narratives offer an insight into the formation of African American female identity in the late nineteenth century .



 
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