Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells
  Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born a slave on July 16, 1862 in Holly Springs Mississippi. When she was 16 and attending Shaw College her parents and 10 month old baby brother died in a yellow fever epidemic. Ida had six remaining siblings that relatives wanted to place in foster homes but rather than see her family split up she dropped out of Shaw and found work at a black elementary school. She resented that the white teachers were paid 80.00 dollars a month while she was only paid 30.00 dollars a month. The discrimination that she faced made her interested in the politics of race and in improving the education of blacks. In 1883 she moved to Memphis where teachers were payed better. While on summer breaks she attended Fisk University in Nashville. She also became interested in the cause of women's rights. On May 4, 1884 a train conductor told her to give up her seat and move to the smoking car which was filled with passengers. Wells refused to give up her seat 71 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in Montgomery. The conductor and two men dragged her out of the car. She sued the railroad and won in a lower court but lost when the case was sent to the Tennessee State Supreme Court. 

  She began writing articles for a weekly newspaper. In 1889, the year my grandfather was born, she became part owner of the Free Speech and Headlight an anti-segregationist newspaper. In 1892 three of her good friends, who were black, owned a store in Memphis named the Peoples Grocery Company. The store sat across the street from a white owned grocery store. The whites resented the competition and a mob invaded the black grocery store. During the fight three white men were shot and injured. Ida's three friends were arrested and jailed. A large lynch mob stormed the jail and killed her three friends. After the lynching Ida used her paper to encourage blacks to leave Memphis and over 6,000 did leave. Others boycotted white businesses. Ida bought a pistol after receiving death threats. The death of her friends drove her into investigative journalism and she began an anti-lynching campaign. Ida discovered that blacks were lynched for such things as failing to pay debts, not stepping aside to make way for whites, competing with whites economically, being drunk in public and supposedly raping white women.She published a pamphlet named Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws In All It's Phases. Ida published an article exposing the myth that white women were at risk of sexual attack by black men. Most liaison's by black men and white women were consensual. Three months after the lynching a mob destroyed her newspaper office in retaliation for her articles. In 1893 she decided to move to Chicago where she continued her anti-lynching crusade. Wells married, raised a family and traveled all over Europe speaking out against lynching. She died on March 25, 1931.
Well's House In Chicago
Marion Indiana

Duluth Minnesota

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