Ida B. Wells is most famous for her anti lynching campaign, a crusade she had led almost singlehandedly. Born to slavery, Wells didn’t just go on to become a champion of women’s rights but also a successful journalist. Born in 1862 at Holly Springs in Mississippi, Wells had witnessed the lynching of a friend and two other African American men in Memphis. That shook her to the core which later became the foundation for her anti lynching movement. Here are some Ida B. Wells major accomplishments.
1. Resorting to Law
Throughout history, there have been visionary lawmakers but the implementation of the laws has always been questionable. Ida B. Wells was born as a slave but slavery was abolished through the Emancipation Proclamation just six months after her birth. Her entire family was freed but the society was yet to move on and have the new values institutionalized by law instilled in its foundation.
On a train ride to Nashville in 1884, Wells was asked to move to the car that was supposedly meant for the African American community. She had a first class ticket and thus did not want to be profiled and thereon shunned to another car. While she was removed from the car forcibly, she had bit the hand of a man. Later, she resorted to law, sued the railroad and even won a settlement. The decision by the circuit court was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court. The initial joy of having law by her side was foiled with the disappointment and that is when she embarked on her writing career.
2. Journalistic Activism
Wells was not a journalist or an activist entirely at the early stages of her career. She dabbled in what can be called journalistic activism. Channeling her own experiences and what she had observed around her while living in the south, she wrote about issues and mistreatments meted out to African Americans. She published her articles in periodicals and black newspapers. She ran Headlight, Memphis Free Speech and later Free Speech. During her days of journalistic activism, she also worked as a teacher at a Memphis school. The condition of the schools which were solely meant for blacks was deplorable. She became vocal about those conditions and would consistently write about them in her publications. Eventually, she got fired from the school due to her vocal criticism.
3. Campaign against the Lynching Practice
No stranger to mistreatments, Wells was shocked and also deeply moved by the lynching of three African American men in Memphis which lead to their murders. Circa 1892, Tom Moss partnered with Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell to open a grocery store. The store did brisk business but it was harming the interests of another store in the neighborhood owned by a white American. One night, the three black men protected their store against attackers and in the process shot some of them. Awaiting trial, the black men did not get the representation they deserved. But it did not matter since they were grabbed from their cells and lynched by a mob.
The incident propelled her to travel across the southern states to explore the realities. She obtained enough information and was convinced that the lynching and other mistreatments were common. Later, she documented her findings and vehemently opposed various practices through her publications. One such piece infuriated the whites down south and her office was vandalized and equipment destroyed. The incident made her move up north and she started writing about lynching for New York Age.
She continued her campaign against lynching. She tried to garner support from liberal whites who were interested in reforms protecting the equal rights of all citizens regardless of color. She wrote about the ban on exhibitors from the African American community at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The same year, she published a detailed account on lynching in ‘A Red Record’.
Five years later, she led a protest against lynching in Washington DC. She called for President McKinley to initiate reforms that would abolish various mistreatments meted out to African Americans.
4. National Association of Colored Women
Ida B. Wells founded the National Association of Colored Women. She was also one of the founders of the NAACP but she disassociated herself from the organization citing lack of initiatives that could have an impact. Later in life, she campaigned for equal rights and to end all discrimination against the blacks. She partook in the National Equal Rights League and campaigned for government jobs for African Americans. She also campaigned for women’s suffrage. She set up the first of its kind kindergarten for African Americans.
Wells may have not succeeded in bringing corrective measures at the very top. She had a failed attempt at becoming a senator. But her writings and campaigns including her speeches went on to galvanize the community and even the whites who were in favor of reforms.