Black History Month

Black History Month Spotlight: Ida B. Wells

Sophie Robinson

Ida B. Wells was an American investigative journalist and activist whose legacy is rooted in her work as a leader in the Civil Rights movement. She spent the late 19th century and early 20th century resisting racism, sexism and violence, using her role as a journalist to raise awareness about the inequalities experienced by African Americans in the United States of America. Sophie Robinson discusses Wells’ life, influence and activism.

The work of Ida B. Wells as an unsung heroine of the civil rights movement has paved the way for generations of Black politicians and activists. In 1862, Wells was born into slavery in Mississippi during the Civil War, though, once the war had ended, her parents became politically active in Reconstruction Era politics. Born into a politically active family who valued education greatly, Wells worked as an educator to support her family.

She set out to investigate why white people lynched Black men

Wells’ own political career began after the devastating lynching of one of her friends, which highlighted to her the problem of white mob violence. She set out to investigate why white people lynched Black men, which led to her publishing her findings in a pamphlet and several columns in local newspapers. An exposé written by Wells about an 1892 lynching – where the three victims, Moss, McDowell, and Stewart, were killed because they were seen as competitors of a white shopkeeper – caused outrage for locals who burnt her columns and eventually forced her to leave her town of Memphis for Chicago.

“She was just an all-round badass.”

She became active in Chicago affairs, writing in her husband’s newspaper, The Chicago Conservator, and other local journals, including a published investigation into lynching called A Red Record (1895). As well as her journalistic ventures, she was also active in organising local African American women in a variety of different causes, including anti-lynching and the suffrage movement.

An investigative journalist covering civil rights today, Nicole Hannah-Jones, commented on Wells’ work saying: “She was a trailblazer in every way…as a feminist, as a suffragist, as an investigative reporter, as a civil rights leader. She was just an all-round badass.”

Always retaining a sense of unwavering courage

Wells felt compelled to continue reporting on the unjust lynchings to bring the truth to the surface, acting almost as a war journalist in the face of violence, hostility and pain, but always retaining a sense of unwavering courage. In this process, she used eye witness interviews, testimonies from families, and records to gather information about the truth of these horrific events. Wells famously said: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Through Wells’ work as an investigative anti-lynching crusader and a civil rights activist, she remains today an inspirational Black figure. She uncovered so many appalling truths that would have otherwise gone unknown and unspoken about to this day.

Sophie Robinson

Featured image courtesy of GPA Photo Archive via Flickr under a Creative Commons license. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.

If you just can’t get enough of Features, like our Facebook as a reader or a contributor and follow us on Instagram.

Black History MonthFeatures

Leave a Reply