We are now in a Wisdom Watch of a very peculiar nature. The lifetime of Ida Bell Wells is analysed. Despite being born into slavery, she went on to become a civil rights pioneering crusading journalist who risked her life to report on injustices suffered by black people.

She was also a leading figure in the first anti-lynching movement in the United States and a co-founder of NAACP. She was indeed a wife and mother forty year before Rosa Parks sued the railways over separate but equal seating.

Paula Giddings, author of the recently published biography “Ida: A Sword Among Lions,” was nice enough to visit us all in our Washington Studio and discuss her research on the life of Ida Wells.

A Brief Overview Of Ida B. Wells’s Early Years

On July 16, 1862, Ida B. Wells was taken into slavery at Holly Springs, Mississippi. Both her dad and mom worked in the kitchen, but her dad was a carpenter. Mr. Bolling owned them and made them his slaves. Mr. Bolling didn’t abuse them, but they were still slaves.

Every member of the household was subject to his every whim, and anyone could be traded to a new master at any time.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln not long after Ida was born. What this meant was that Ida & her family were officially free in the eyes of the United States government. Though, Ida was a Mississippian. Following the end of the Civil War, Ida & her family are finally freed.

In Ida’s case, both of her folks passed away from Yellow Fever when she was only sixteen. Ida began working as a schoolteacher and took good care of her siblings so that the family could be together.

After that, Ida left for Memphis, where she could earn more money as a teacher. During the summers, she enrolled in college courses and started writing and editing for a regional publication.

Ida was riding the rails one day. Even though she had a first-class ticket, the conductor made her switch cars. White individuals were not allowed in the first-class section. Ida insisted on staying put and eventually had to be removed from her perch.

Ida felt that this was not right. She won $500 in court against the train company. The verdict was later reversed, unfortunately, by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Ida started a newspaper column where she discussed the racism she saw in the South. At initially, she only contributed to regional publications. Later, she launched a publication called Free Speech in which she criticised racial injustice and segregation.

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The murder of a white man in 1892 led to the arrest of Tom Moss, a friend of Ida’s. Tom had been guarding his market when a group of white guys stormed in and looted and destroyed the establishment, forcing Tom out of business.

Tom prayed the judge would see that he was merely being cautious. A crowd, however, had him put to death before he could stand trial. The term “lynching” was coined to describe this form of extrajudicial murder.

Ida discussed the lynching in the research paper. Many were enraged by this. Ida ran away to New York for protection. Upon learning that the Memphis headquarters of the Free Speech had been bombed, Ida made the executive decision to remain in the Big Apple and accept a position with the New York Age.

There, she documented the all-too-common practise of lynching in order to educate the public about the systematic murder of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of their oppressors. The amount of lynchings in the United States decreased significantly as a direct result of Ida’s work.

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Human Rights Fighter

Ida’s fame grew as a result of her work on racial issues. She collaborated in the battle against racism and segregation with prominent African-American figures including Frederick Douglass & W.E.B. Du Bois. And Ida was all for women having the right to vote. In 1913, she organised the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first group of its kind to focus on advancing the rights of black women.


For her role in the Civil Rights Movement, Ida is remembered. Her efforts to end lynching raised awareness throughout the United States and around the world of the wrongdoing associated with the practise. On March 25, 1931, Ida passed away from kidney illness in Chicago.

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What You May Not Know Regarding Ida B. Wells

  • In the early 1900s, Ida helped establish the NAACP (NAACP).
  • In 1898, she tied the knot with Ferdinand Barnett. Four children were born to Ida and Ferdinand.
  • She lost her 1930 bid for a seat in the Illinois State Senate.
  • She established Chicago’s first all-black preschool.
  • When asked about the importance of education, Ida stated, “There is no instructor to compared to the press. The individuals must be aware before they can act.”

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Wells spent her entire life fighting against racism and brutality, and she was widely recognised as the most prominent Black woman inside the United States at the time.

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