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Ida B. Wells: ‘People like this will never give up’

By Janelle Gamez-Prince, People's Tribune Online Edition, Vol.22 no. 8, 20 February 1995

Editor's note: The author is a junior at Oak Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois who is a two-time recipient of human rights awards. Here, in honor of African American History Month, she tells the story of Ida B. Wells.

Ida B. Wells was born in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

As a teen-ager, her family was hit with yellow fever, a deadly disease. She lost both her mom and her dad, along with one sibling. This left her to take care of the other four siblings. There was talk about splitting her brothers and sisters up. She told them "No." The next day, she dropped out of school, made herself look older and found a teaching job to keep her family together.

Even though Ida was just a child, she would never let anyone try to "dry her in the sun." She was self-motivated and stopped at nothing until she received justice. While teaching, she began writing to speak her mind. She began writing about issues that the whites covered up, that should be known by everyone. She quit teaching and became a full-time co-editor of "The Free Speech and Headlight." She started writing about lynching when three of her friends -- Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart - were lynched in 1892.

A lynching consisted of: (1) a notice to other whites in neighboring towns, so they could witness the lynching; (2) a huge spectacle with thousands watching; (3) the burning of the victim, usually a male, at the stake, after first being exposed to hours of wrathful pain, known as "surgery below the belt;" and, as if that wasn't bad enough (4) the observers took parts of the mutilated body as souvenirs and took pictures for post cards.

Wells wanted to publish her investigative findings in a booklet, but she faced a problem of insufficient funds. In 1892, black women came to her aid. They raised funds for her booklet, which would be called Southern Horror: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.

She applauded the black citizens of Georgetown, Kentucky, who in July 1889 set fire to the town in revenge for a lynching. "As long as we permit ourselves to be trampled upon," wrote Wells, "so long we will have to endure it."

During this time, she got involved with the black women's club movement and went to England (which bought a lot of cotton from the Southern United States) to let them know about the real treatment of blacks. She went to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and passed out 20,000 pamphlets. She would expose the wrongdoing of the United States of America.

Because of her beliefs, she met Susan B. Anthony, the famous fighter for women's rights, during a protest in New York. They became good friends, and when Ida got married to attorney Ferdinand L. Barnett, Susan objected because, she believed, Ida would have to divide her attention. But Ida B. Wells-Barnett stayed with journalism and her fight for justice.

With her dedication and effort along with others, they got an anti-lynching law passed. This was because of the pressure and the embarrassment they put on the U.S. government. People like this will never give up; they will keep coming and fighting back.

This article originated in the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE (Online Edition), Vol. 22 No. 8 / February 20, 1995; P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, pt@noc.org

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