Ida B. Wells is one of the most iconic African American women reformists that boldly challenged social injustices and demand for equality. She was raised in Holy Springs, Mississippi that was freed from slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation. Granted educational opportunities her enthusiasm to learn and the search for the truth grew which led her to many achievements on being a teacher, businesswomen, newspaper columnist, and investigative journalist. The best achievement though was her international anti-lynching campaign that increased awareness for change. Ida B. Wells was able to succeed in her activist’s efforts through her courageous nobility instilled by her parents, the oppression and violence she saw African Americans faced during and after Reconstruction, and her drive to implement change on the standards of gender and women’s rights.
Ida was a child of six that was under the protective care of James and Elizabeth Wells. Her parents were former slaves and became highly respected people of the community. James was a carpenter and to secure his civil liberties as a freed man he became involved in politics, was a Mason, and member of the Board of Trustees of Shaw University. Elizabeth was a nurturing mother that disciplined Ida on proper behavior, how to treat others with respect, and encouraged her to go to school. They were hard workers and served as great role models for Ida for they, “instilled in their daughter a keen sense of duty to God, family, and community” (Royster 1996, 15). Until the day they died, Ida watched her parents constantly work in bettering the political and economic conditions. Although Yellow fever took the life of her parents, their teachings made young Ida confident in her abilities to provide for her family. She supported her family through teaching and to uphold the ideals her parents taught, Ida developed a sense of responsibility for the community.
After the Civil War ended, southern states entered into the Reconstruction Period where newly freed African Americans had hoped to progress socially, politically, and financially. However the transition into a life of freedom was not as obtainable for most. The south enacted a new legislation known as Black Codes that was constructed to deter African Americans from freedom and force them into labor once again. Some states denied blacks the right to purchase or rent land, work in skilled professions, the right to vote, and were fined or arrested if they were unemployed or convicted of petty crimes. Helpless, African Americans were required to do unpaid labor to pay off their fines. To challenge the discrimination the African American community faced, Ida sued against the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company and won. She was forcibly removed from the ladies car seat when she refused to go to smoking car. Although the Supreme Court overruled it she stood up for her civil rights and would continue to advocate for equal rights. Suppressing blacks from equality was not the only issue they confronted, they had to fear the risk of being murdered. Many African Americans were being lynched in public spectacles due to allegations made about raping white women. Similar to Jesus and the cross, innocent Negroes were subjected to lynching. Willfully blinded by the allegations white Christians justified the murders through religion in order to protect the community (Vivian 2013, 543-44). Upset at the horrors happening, Wells went undercover and exposed the misconceptions about lynching. She explains that, “lynching was not simply a spontaneous punishment for crimes but an act of terror perpetrated against a race of people in order to maintain power and control” (Royster 1996, 3). The lynching not only targeted African American men, but women and children as well. The majority of the charges of rape were false accusations, and even if it were small crimes or no crime at all they would still be hung. To bring awareness on this issue that was...
Bibliography: Davidson, James. "They Say": Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2008.
Royster, Jacqueline. Southern Horrors and Other Writings; The Anti-Lynching Campaign
of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.
Vivian, Tim, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” Review of The Cross and the Lynching
Tree, by James H. Cone, Anglican Theological Review 95 no. 3 (2013): 543-44.
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