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Ida B. Wells-Barnett Leading Against Lynching


Wells-Barnett, an African-American feminist, journalist, and activist, led the anti-lynching program in the U.S.A during the 1890s. She was born on July 16, 1862, in Holly Spring city in Mississippi. She was born into slavery, during the time of the civil war. Her parents became active in politics during the Reconstruction Period after the war. They enrolled her in Rust College to build her education foundation, but she was expelled after a conflict with the school’s president. In 1878 she visited her grandmother and discovered that her hometown had been hit by a yellow fever outbreak. Her parents and younger brother both perished as a result of the illness. After being left to raise her sister and brothers, she decided to pursue a career as a teacher to keep the family together. Her siblings were eventually relocated to Memphis. Wells continued to work as a teacher there. In addition, she went to Lemoyne-Owen College in Memphis and Fisk University in Nashville, during the summers (Hudson, 2018). She was recognized for being a critical student with strong, radical views on women’s rights and racial injustice at the time. Later she became a well-known journalist, activist, and researcher because of the multiple articles she authored and campaigns she held as a manner of fighting for African-Americans’ civil rights marking her presence in African-American history.

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Civil Rights Movements

Wells’s fight for African-American civil rights began in her career as a journalist by contributing articles to local periodicals. In 1889, she began writing a weekly newspaper column for The Living Way under the pen name “Iola.” Wells was later removed from her teaching profession after writing articles openly criticizing the unequal treatment of African-American pupils and teachers in segregated schools. She, however, continued to write and eventually became the editor and co-publisher of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight periodicals until they were burned down by a white mob. She also led an anti-lynching campaign in the U. S.A.

Wells’s anti-lynching campaign is seen when she educated the public about the illegal lynching of African-Americans through her journalism. For instance, in 1892 she wrote an article titled “Lynch Law in All Its Phases”, which investigated the underlying reasons for the increase in violence against African-Americans in the south (Hudson, 2018). Wells concluded from her research that lynching was a kind of vengeance for black economic development since rural whites were increasingly competing with African-Americans. After receiving threats for her anti-lynching activities, she moved to Chicago where she continued to speak out against racial and gender discrimination. Wells became an outspoken activist for Black women’s suffrage and a founder of the Black women’s club movement, spending the rest of her life (died in 1931) in Chicago. Since all activities are triggered by a specific event, Wells’ actions for the civil rights struggle are no exception.

Throughout her life, Wells experienced certain events that resulted in her need to fight for the civil rights of African-Americans. For example, her desire to work with other black activists and leaders to advocate for black communities was sparked by an incident on a train in May 1884. After purchasing a first-class rail ticket, Wells was upset when the train attendants requested her to transfer to the African-American car. On moral grounds, she declined. As she was dragged from the train against her will, she tried to fight one of the men by biting his hand. She launched a lawsuit against the railroad and was given a $500 settlement in a circuit court case. The Tennessee High Court finally overruled the judgment. As a result of this injustice, Wells was inspired to write about racism and inequality in the black community.

Another motive for her action was the injustices that resulted from the lynching in Memphis that angered her, leading to the anti-lynching crusade that she initiated. Three African-American gentlemen, Calvin McDowell, Tom Moss, and Will Stewart, had founded a grocery store that competed with an adjacent white-owned establishment, sparking friction. They were eventually forced to shoot some of the white vandals while defending themselves on one occasion. They were apprehended and imprisoned, however, they were not given the chance to vindicate themselves against the allegations. A lynch crowd took them from their jail cell and killed them. After one of her acquaintances was lynched, Wells turned her attention to white mob violence and authored about racial injustice in the south (Hudson, 2018). Because of her exposure to the lynching, the enraged forced her out of Memphis.

Following that, Wells-Barnett traveled overseas to educate foreign audiences about lynching. She confronted the white suffragists who overlooked lynching when traveling abroad. (Hudson, 2018). In the United States, women’s suffrage organizations routinely criticized and ostracized her for her viewpoint. Wells-Barnett, despite this, remained active in the feminist movement. She went on to co-found the National Association of Colored Women’s Club to address women’s suffrage and civil rights issues. These civil rights movements are what made her recognized in African-American history.

Relation to the African-American History

Concerning African-American history, she fought relentlessly to promote black equality and black power in addition to the lynching campaign. Organizing black political power was one of her accomplishments. Early in the women’s suffrage campaign, Wells noticed that women of color were not exploiting their limited voting rights and that the campaign as a whole was not welcoming to them. In 1913, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, Chicago’s first black suffragist organization, to address this problem (Hudson, 2018). She taught the women how to canvass and organized them to go door-to-door in largely black areas, educating and registering new voters. She felt that black women could form a sizable voting alliance, increasing the power of the black electorate.

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Secondly, was by harnessing black community power. A growing number of black folks from the South relocated to Chicago in the early 1900s. Many white institutions, however, turned them away when they sought assistance in securing housing and other services. Rather than lobbying those institutions to become more inclusive, Wells believed that by banding together, the black community in Chicago could help itself. Due to this, in 1910, she established the Negro Fellowship League. The union started as a rooming house for the men, but it swiftly grew to encompass job assignments, social gatherings, and political meetings.

Another action was improving black children’s educational opportunities. When Wells came to Chicago, her district’s pupils had only one private kindergarten option. It was open to both white and black pupils, but many of the colored youngsters struggled to get an opportunity there (Hudson, 2018). Wells, therefore, came up with the idea of establishing a new kindergarten. It was the first kindergarten constructed exclusively for Chicago’s black community. These various actions that related her to African-American history are what built her legacy today.


All her contributions to the Civil rights movement are still acknowledged today. Wells, who was known for her fiery and aggressive writing, addressed topics concerning the political, social, and economic status of African-Americans in America, and through her writing, she brought to light the racial and social injustices that African-Americans experienced at the time (Hudson, 2018). Her most well-known work was investigative reporting on the lynching of African-American men in the South in the 1890s. She also helped in electing the city’s first black alderman, built the first black kindergarten, and organized the black women community to name some of her numerous triumphs. Her work surfaced the way for future generations of African-American activists, politicians, and local leaders to follow in her footsteps.


Wells, being an African-American woman, made certain that the needs of her people were satisfied. In the 1890s, she was a journalist who led a battle in the United States against lynch mobs. She then became involved in different initiatives to promote African-American rights. She fought for the African-Americans until she died in Chicago on March 25, 1931, at the age of 68. She left an amazing political and social heroism legacy in her wake. Wells fought racism with her writings, vocalizations, and protests, regardless of the hazards she faced.


Hudson Jr, D. L. (2018). Ida B. Wells: Fearless journalist from Memphis who changed the world. Tennessee Bar Journal, 54(8), 14-17.

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