Frederick Douglass's Women
Ida B. Wells, Part Four
For a long time, Wells thought of marriage and romantic relationships as oppressive, where women were expected to defer to men and flatter their vanity. But one day, she met a man who must have made her feel very differently, an attorney, writer, and fellow advocate for black rights named Ferdinand Barnett. She married him and they raised four children (Cools 3). She strived to balance caring for her family with her activism and her work as a probation officer in
. As she aged, she
devoted much of her time to African-American organization causes. Chicago
Wells-Barnett had been and continued to be indefatigable in her documentation of lynching.
Wells would do things like document every lynching in a year, breaking them down by cause and region. Through her research, she was able to demonstrate persuasively that many of these murders had nothing to do with rape, and many were perpetrated against the innocent, the insane, or the merely insolent.
Some of Wells’ methods of work recall today’s “digital media activists.” She circulated “pamphlets” of her own speeches about lynching. Later, when she couldn’t travel because she had a family (and changed her name to the very modern, hyphenated Wells-Barnett), she would… close-read the reportage of white newspapers to make her case. These papers “reported the deaths of [lynch victims] … black men in enthusiastic, almost pornographic detail, making Wells-Barnett’s case against mob violence for her.”
In 1896, Wells-Barnett formed the National Association of Colored Women. In 1898, she led a protest in
that called for President William McKinley to make reforms. She founded in Washington, D.C. the Ida B. Wells
Club for Negro women and the more activist Negro Fellowship League. She published in 1900 her “Lynch Law of America”
creed that argued that without representation in government, lawlessness
against black Americans would continue to reign. Chicago
In 1908, the year after the occurrence of brutal assaults on the African-American community in
, Wells “attended a
special conference for the organization that would later become known as the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Though she is
considered a founding member of the NAACP, Wells later cut ties with the
organization; she explained her decision thereafter, stating that she felt the
organization, in its infancy at the time she left, lacked action-based
initiatives” (Biography 5). Springfield,
Ida had brought members of the Alpha Suffrage Club to march. “The organizers of the march asked that they walk at the end of the parade. She tried to get the White Illinois delegation to support her opposition of this segregation, but found few supporters. They either would march at the end or not at all” (Wilson and Russell 1).
By the beginning of the 20th century,… many middle-class white people embraced the suffragists’ cause because they believed that the enfranchisement of “their” women would guarantee white supremacy by neutralizing the black vote (Williams 1).
5,000 women marched. One of the women, Mary Wilson, described what she saw.
“The violence erupted minutes after the parade began. The crowd broke through steel cables and spilled into the street. Men, many of them drunk, spit at the marchers and grabbed their clothing, hurled insults and lighted cigarettes, snatched banners and tried to climb floats. Police did little to keep order. Observed one of Paul’s supporters, ‘I did not know men could be such fiends.’”
By the end of the day, 100 marchers were taken to the local emergency hospital and “Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, responding to a request from the chief of police, authorized the use of a troop of cavalry from nearby
to help control the crowd.” Fort Myer
The protesters had to have known the risk before they left the safety of their homes for
. But women, black and white,
traveled across the country anyway to make their voices heard (Bernard 3-4). Washington
Ida Wells-Barnett refused to march at the back of the parade with an all-black delegation. She noted, "If the
women do not take a stand now in this great democratic parade then the colored
women are lost" (Kettler 5). As the parade progressed, emerging from the crowd, she
joined the White Illinois delegation, situating herself between two White
She continued to fight for African-American equality. “Working on behalf of all women, as part of her work with the National Equal Rights League [she] called for President Woodrow Wilson to put an end to discriminatory hiring practices for government jobs. She created the first African-American kindergarten in her community” … (Biography 6).
Wells-Barnett went on to serve as secretary of the National Afro-American Council. She founded and became the first president of the Negro Fellowship League. Nevertheless, during the last decade of her life … she found herself pushed to the sidelines by the emerging Negro leadership, having alienated many people with her confrontational style and her difficult personality (Banes 2).
In 1930, Wells made an unsuccessful bid for the
Health problems plagued her the following year. Illinois
Ida B. Wells died of kidney disease March 25, 1931, at the age of 68, in Chicago,
. She left behind an impressive
legacy of social and political heroism. With her writings, speeches and
protests, Wells fought against prejudice, no matter what potential dangers she
faced. She once said, "I felt that one had better die fighting against
injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap" (Biography 9). Illinois
Banes, Mary Jo. “First Things: Ida Wells-Barnett.”
Magazine. Summer 2004. Web. <http://bcm.bc.edu/issues/summer_2004/c21_wellsbarnett.html>. Boston College
Bernard, Michelle. “Despite the Tremendous Risk, African American Women Marched for Suffrage, Too.” The
Post. March 3, 2013. Web. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2013/03/03/despite-the-tremendous-risk-african-american-women-marched-for-suffrage-too/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a6ac17a81f55>. Washington
Cools, Amy. ““Happy Birthday, Ida B. Wells!” Ordinary Philosophy. July 16, 2017. Web. <https://ordinaryphilosophy.com/tag/ida-b-wells/>.
Dionne, Evette. “Women's Suffrage Leaders Left Out Black Women.” News and Politics. Aug. 18, 2017. Web. <https://www.teenvogue.com/story/womens-suffrage-leaders-left-out-black-women>.
“Ida B. Wells Biography.” Biography. The Biography.com Website. A&E Television Networks. January 19, 2018. Web. <https://www.biography.com/people/ida-b-wells-9527635>.
Kettler, Sara. “6 Fascinating Facts About 'Crusader for Justice' Ida B. Wells.” Biography. July 15, 2017. Web. <https://www.biography.com/news/ida-b-wells-biography-facts>.
Seltzer, Sarah. “Ida B. Wells, Anti-Lynching Crusader, Was the Godmother of the Social Justice Internet.” Flavorwire. November 24, 2014. Web. <http://flavorwire.com/489781/ida-b-wells-anti-lynching-crusader-was-the-godmother-of-the-social-justice-internet>.
Williams, Yohuru. “Women Who Fought for the Vote.” History. Web. <https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/women-who-fought-for-the-vote>.