Ida B. Wells, The Power Of Print

Written by DEKYA

Where would society be today without the help of one heroic woman? Ida B. Wells, a journalist and a civil rights activist, took charge of many issues during her lifetime, working hard to get to the word out about the issues affecting the black community, from race to lynching. In May 1884. Wells was on a train ride from Memphis to Nashville. Having bought a first-class ticket for her train ride, the crew members forced her to move to the car for African Americans only. Wells  completely refused to do so. She bought a first class ticket and had every right to sit where she belonged. When she was removed from the train, she bit one of the men on the hand. She later sued the railroad and won a $500 settlement in a circuit court case, only to have the decision overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

This outrage led Wells to the path of writing about issues of race and politics in the South, under the name, “Lola”. A wide variety of her articles were published in black newspapers and periodicals. Then building on from this she held a position as a teacher in an all black school in Memphis while working as a journalist and a publisher that she jointly owned with her husband.

Ida began to write in her articles about the wrongful deaths of other African Americans emerged as she spent two months in the South, gathering as much information on other race-related lynching incidents. One editorial on this subject pushed some of the city’s white population over the edge; a mob broke into her office and destroyed all her equipment.Luckily, Wells had been traveling to New York City at this time. She was warned that her life would be at risk if she ever returned home to Memphis, so she stayed put and wrote a report on lynching in America for the New York Age, an African American newspaper. The newspaper was run by a former slave, named T. Thomas Fortune.

Later on in her career, Wells wrote a pamphlet called “The Reason Why the Colored American Is Represented in the World’s Colombian Exposition,” due to the fact on the ban on African American exhibitors at the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition.  The pamphlet was about American society’s ideas about a utopia with blacks and whites being together without any conflict. Her efforts were funded and supported by Frederick Douglass and Ferdinand Barnett. Frederick Douglas was a freed slave and Barnett was a lawyer and editor. Barnett later married Ida in 1895.  In the same year, she published “A Red Record,” a personal examination of lynchings in America.

Ida really did a lot to use press positively to shed light on issues, where would African American journalists be if it weren’t for passionate truth-seekers like Ida B Wells? She had remarkable courage, giving voice to the African American community in a time where their voices were all but silenced. She shaped the world of journalism, by sparking important talk about civil-rights issues, and by paving the way for black journalists in the industry.  Press for positivity and freedom of speech!