Encyclopedia Womannica

Warriors: Ida B. Wells

Episode Summary

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was born into slavery and became a journalist, educator, civil and workers’ rights activist and suffragist. She is best known as a leader of the anti-lynching movement.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

Special thanks to our guest host A'shanti Gholar, host of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics!

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, this is Encyclopedia Womannica. I’m A’shanti Gholar, host of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics guest hosting today’s episode. 

Born into slavery, today’s Warrior became a journalist, educator, civil and workers’ rights activist and suffragist. She is best known as a leader of the anti-lynching movement. Her reporting on the violent injustices faced by African Americans and work to make the United States a more equitable place significantly impacted American society.  Let’s talk about Ida B. Wells. 

Ida Bell Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16th, 1862 — six months before the Emancipation Proclamation. She was the eldest of six children. 

When Ida was 16, her parents died in a yellow fever outbreak. Ida was determined that she and her siblings would not be split up so she got a job as a teacher at a rural country school. 

In 1882, Ida moved with her family to Memphis, Tennessee.

Two years later, Ida was riding on a train from work when she was asked to move. She was instructed to move to the “colored car,” which also served as the smoking area. Furious, Ida refused. When the conductor forcibly removed her from the train, Ida bit him. She sued the railroad company and ultimately lost the case.

According to Historian Mia Bay, the injustice inspired the beginning of her activism and journalism career.   

While working as a journalist, Ida wrote about a variety of subjects. She was an outspoken reporter, and weighed in on issues such as disenfranchisement and segregation. Rapidly, Ida became one of the most prominent black journalists of her time and was called “The Princess of the Press.”  

In 1892, Ida’s close friend and two other African Americans were murdered by a lynch mob. The killings motivated Ida to expose the reality of lynchings, becoming one of the first reporters to do so.

 Ida wrote articles condemning the attack and the wrongful deaths of African Americans. In one article titled Lynch Law in America, Ida wrote: “the nineteenth century lynching mob cuts off ears, toes, and fingers, strips off flesh, and distributes portions of the body as souvenirs among the crowd.” 

Through her writing, Ida documented the dangers that Black southerners faced.

After one particularly controversial article that Ida wrote, a mob stormed the office of her newspaper and destroyed the press. Fortunately, Ida wasn’t in the office when the incident occurred. 

Still, the attack understandably frightened Ida and she left town. She moved to New York, where she worked at the New York Age, an African American newspaper. There she continued her work exposing lynching and wrote a report on the subject for the publication. 

In 1898, Ida brought her campaign to the White House. She discussed lynchings with President McKinley and lobbied Congress for a national antilynching law. 

In 1895, Ida moved to Chicago and married Ferdinand Barnett, with whom she had four children. 

In Chicago, Ida helped to form many prominent civil rights organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women, the Alpha Suffrage Club, and the NAACP. She actively fought for the women's suffrage movement. During one suffrage parade, organizers told Ida and the other Black women in attendance to march in the back. The organizers feared that women of color would offend Southern delegates.

 But Ida refused, standing her ground despite the enormous backlash she received. 

Ida’s fight for social justice was relentless. She continued her activism until her death in 1931 at the age of 69.  

Ida is best remembered for her invaluable role as a social pioneer. Ida risked her life—repeatedly—to fight against the scourge of lynching and to protect African Americans all over the country. 

Join us tomorrow to learn about our final warrior, a legendary princess of Burkina Faso! 

Talk to you tomorrow!