Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells

Memphis Mural

Ida B. Wells was an African-American journalist and early civil rights activist. Her activism began when she led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She would go on to be a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and remained active in the movement until her death. Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862, Ida B. Wells moved to Memphis in 1883 where she spent her early years as a teacher. She wrote about issues of race and politics in the South, speaking out against the lynching of African Americans, and putting her own life at risk.

Wells set out to shatter harmful myths and improve the African American experience by exposing the truth. She made her voice heard in time, place, and in an atmosphere that was not only hostile to her identity and cause, but tangibly incendiary. She published a number of pamphlets including, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases in 1892 and The Red Record in 1895. In 1892, a mob of white men and boys attacked and murdered three African American men, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Harry Stewart, whose only crime was running a successful grocery store. Their murders made her column in the black newspaper, Memphis Free Speech, more relevant, charged, and widely read than ever before. After her newspaper office was burned in retaliation for her columns, Wells left Memphis for her own safety, but she continued her campaign in New York. With the active support of black women’s clubs, African American newspapers, and a few white supporters, she turned lynching into a national issue.

For more information on Ida B. Wells, see Memphis: Building Community Study Guide and Choosing to Participate.

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