In honor of Women’s Equality Day, today’s WCW is:
IDA B. WELLS, 1862-1931
Ida B. Wells, born in Mississippi in 1862, is perhaps best known for her work as a crusading journalist and anti-lynching activist. While working as a schoolteacher in Memphis, Wells wrote for the city’s black newspaper, The Free Speech. Her writings exposed and condemned the inequalities and injustices that were so common in the Jim Crow South: disfranchisement, segregation, lack of educational and economic opportunity for African-Americans, and especially the arbitrary violence that white racists used to intimidate and control their black neighbors.
Wells’s insistence on publicizing the evils of lynching, in particular, won her many enemies in the South, and in 1892 she left Memphis for good when an angry mob wrecked the offices of The Free Speech and warned that they would kill her if she ever came back. Wells moved north but kept writing about racist violence in the former Confederacy, campaigning for federal anti-lynching laws (which were never passed) and organizing on behalf of many civil rights causes, including woman suffrage.
In March 1913, as Wells prepared to join the suffrage parade through President Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural celebration, organizers asked her to stay out of the procession: Some of the white suffragists, it seemed, refused to march alongside blacks. (Early suffrage activists had generally supported racial equality–in fact, most had been abolitionists before they were feminists–but by the beginning of the 20th century, that was rarely the case. In fact, 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.) Wells joined the march anyway, but her experience showed that to many white suffragists, “equality” did not apply to everyone.
Wells continued to fight for civil rights for all until she died in 1931.