Spotlight in Journalism: Ida B. Wells, Journalist and Civil Rights Activist

Reporter at news or press conference, writing notes, holding microphone. Media event.

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Reporter at news or press conference, writing notes, holding microphone. Media event.

Alaina Walter

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a journalist who was not afraid to write about controversial topics. She was known for writing about lynching, which was when a mob led killing, typically of a black person.

On July 16th, 1862, Wells was born to her parents, both of whom were slaves in some sense. Wells’ parents had seven other children after her. When she was sixteen, Wells’ parents and one of her brothers, Stanley, died from yellow fever. Now taking care of her siblings, Wells became a teacher and her friends and family volunteered to take care of them during the day.

Wells faced numerous injustices and would write about her experiences. One particular instance was when she wasn’t allowed to sit with the other women on the train despite having a ticket, because of her race. She wrote an article for a Black church newspaper and sued the railroad. Wells won the case and decided to become a journalist.

Eight years later, in 1892, a mob of white people lynched three black men with whom Wells was friends. The three men owned a grocery store. One day, a black boy was playing marbles with a white boy in front of the grocery store and the two boys got into a fight. When the men in charge of the store went outside to intervene, they were attacked by a mob. Wells decided to write about the lynching and encouraged black people to leave Memphis. After that, she continued to advocate against lynching in the articles she wrote. She wrote despite the impending danger and the attention her articles drew. Once when she was away from home, her printing press was destroyed and a mob threatened to kill her, so she ended up moving to New York. That same year, she wrote a pamphlet called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, and three years later, in 1895, she wrote another called The Red Record. Wells was also a founding member of the NAACP and started a kindergarten for African American children.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett died on March 25, 1931, from kidney failure. In her lifetime, Wells fought for women’s rights and civil rights and fought against lynching. Her legacy continues and in 2020, she got a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Today, you can go see The Light of Truth Ida B. Wells National Monument, a national monument dedicated to her in 2021, in Chicago.