Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Of My Heroes: Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett: journalist, writer, civil rights activist and one of my personal heroes.

I was 17, a college freshman in a 1000 level History class when I stumbled upon her: Ida B. Wells-Barnett. She was a writer (thrilling to me since I secretly fancied myself one, even though I was an education major at the time), independent, strong and outspoken (qualities I desired, but did not have). She was Black. She was a woman... a Black woman writer... a true trinity of uniqueness... and was making her mark on history a century before I discovered her. I was enthralled.

Over a decade later, I still am. Even though her mark has been hidden by decades of unawareness and shoved under the records of countless other Black and/or female leaders who are trotted out around this time (February being Black History Month and March being Women's History Month), it still remains. And if you don't know her, allow me please, to formally introduce you.

"Ida B. Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, just months prior to emancipation in 1862. Her parents died of yellow fever when she was 14, and Wells, though minimally educated, began teaching to support her seven younger sisters and brothers. She somehow managed to keep her family together, graduate from Rust College and secure a teaching position in Memphis in 1888.

When she was 22, Wells defied a conductor’s order in Tennessee to move to a segregated railroad car and was forcibly removed. She won a lawsuit (later overturned) against the railroad and, from that point on, worked consistently to overcome injustices to people of color and to women. In 1889 she became co-owner of a Memphis newspaper, the Free Speech and Headlight. Her editorials protesting the lynching of three black friends led to a boycott of white businesses, the destruction of her newspaper office and threats against her life. Undeterred, she carried her anti-lynching crusade to Chicago and published Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, which documented racial lynching in America.

In 1895 she married Ferdinand L. Barnett, attorney and owner of the Conservator, Chicago’s first black newspaper, and hyphenated her name to Wells-Barnett. Though married and eventually the mother of four, Wells-Barnett continued to write and organize. She was a founder of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), marched in the parade for universal suffrage in Washington, D.C. (1913) and established the Negro Fellowship League for black men and the first kindergarten for black children in Chicago.

Though her crusade for Congress to pass anti-lynching laws did not succeed during her lifetime, her efforts as a writer and activist dedicated to social change and justice bore fruit in many areas and established her as one of the most forceful and remarkable women of her time. Ida B. Wells died in Chicago. She once said: “One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”

From Americans Who Tell The Truth

This is just a brief sketch of an admirable life. Ms. Wells-Barnett overcame slavery, became highly educated, promoted education, fought injustice, yet managed to marry (and to a civic-minded lawyer!) and have four children. Although she died in 1931, long before Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat, Dr. King marched and Malcolm revolted, it's undeniable she helped plant the seeds that grew into Civil Rights Movement decades later.

For more on Ms. Wells- Barnett, click here.


Don said...

Excellent read.

I'd heard of this exceptional human being yet I didn't know the dynamics of her plight. After reading this post, and how you pretty much laid it out, I can now understood why her life was as inspiring as others have always claimed her to be.

Thanks for sharing.

Loved how she stood up and made an impact on the lives of her siblings after the unfortunate death of her parents.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Me, too! I'm happy you've even heard of her, since most people haven't. But she is an inspiration to me, and I'm sure to many others.

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