In honor of Black History Month, it’s important to highlight individuals whose contributions to society have a generational impact. Ida B. Wells is such an individual. She was an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader in the American civil rights movement until her death on March 25, 1931. It was through her courageous fight for justice for African Americans in the face of harm that she helped make lasting change.
Wells’ life continues to be an inspiration to journalists, activists, and young women, especially women of color. Her drive to continue to search for the truth in her stories has touched me personally. As a journalist, you want to capture the raw emotion and feel of events from those who haven’t been heard. She demonstrated strength in pursuing her goals knowing that they would lead to danger but chose to do them regardless because she knew it was the right thing to do.
Wells is most famously known for her campaign against lynching in the south. In one tragic incident, her friends Thomas Moss, Sr Will Stewart, and Calvin McDowell were all victims of white mob violence in Memphis, Tenn. in 1892. The three men were charged and arrested with “maintaining a public nuisance” after defending The People’s Grocery from an armed white mob. In the middle of the night, 75 outraged white citizens stormed the jail, seized the three men, and drove them beyond the city limits where they viciously beat and then shot the three men.
After the lynching occurred, Wells began an editorial campaign against the lynching and published her findings in her famous pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases, which ultimately led to her office in Memphis being destroyed by a mob while she was away. Wells was threatened with physical harm if she returned to Memphis, which led her to continue her campaign elsewhere. She would later settle down in Chicago and continued her anti-lynching campaign through lectures and anti-lynching societies.
A piece written by NPR demonstrated Ida B. Wells’ Lasting Impact On Chicago Politics And Power and how it has been one of her greatest achievements that is still celebrated today. Having been the first to open the first Black kindergarten and help elect Chicago’s first Black alderman. The work Wells did pave the way for generations of Black politicians, activists, and community leaders, especially for black women in power today such as Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Ald. Michelle Harris, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough. Wells inspired individuals to go beyond the barriers that had been placed on African Americans and made a mark with her campaign, and writing, she’s someone who is celebrated not only this month but always.