By Eelisa Jones
Ida B. Wells is widely acknowledge as the first anti-lynching activist in U.S. history. Born in Holly Spring, Mass. on July 16th, 1862, Wells was dedicated to the creation of a Southern environment consisting of equality and opportunity for the African and black community.
Wells’ birth took place in the midst of the Civil War.
She was about 6 months old when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that had freed herself and her family from Confederate slavery.
Wells relocated the Memphis Tennessee in 1882 to live with her aunt.
Aside from witnessing the everyday prejudice and racism which ran rampant in the Southern states, Wells underwent two transformational experiences which solidified her role as activist and journalist.
The first experience involved a train ticket. In May of 1884, Wells purchased a first-class ticket to Memphis, Tenn. When asked to abdicate her first class seat and move instead to a car designated for African Americans, Wells refused.
The altercation ended with Wells’ forcible removal. Wells sued the train company in a circuit court and won.
However, the $500 settlement initially awarded was soon overturned by the state.
Wells responded to this perceived injustice by publishing several articles dedicated to racial tensions in the South.
In 1889, Wells became the co-owner of Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, a black Memphis-based publication.
She later became co-owner of another black publication titled simply Free Speech. Wells remained a vocal advocate for school segregation, eventually costing her employment at a segregated Memphis school.
The second transformative event in Wells’ life paved the way for a number of achievement for which Wells is best known today.
One day in 1892, Wells returned to Memphis after a short trip abroad.
Fleeing masses of African American greeted her as she exited the train station.
Wells soon learned that a group white Memphis citizens had publicly lynched three black men shortly before her arrival.
Among these three men was Thomas Moss – a grocery store owner and Sunday school teacher.
At that time, Wells, Moss, and Moss’ wife had developed a significant friendship.
Wells was horrified.
After decrying the public lynching in the local paper, Wells traveled throughout the South for two months, gathering information about other lynching cases.
In one article, she wrote that “The South is brutalized to a degree not realized by its own inhabitants, and the very foundation of government, law and order, are imperiled.”
Wells left multiple mobs of angry white Southerners in her wake.
Wells eventually settled in New York, where she began to create the bulwark of her legacy as an anti-lynching advocate.
Shortly following her arrival in New York, Wells wrote an in-depth analysis of lynching throughout the U.S. The article ran in The New York Age, an African-American paper owned by former slave T. Thomas Fortune.
In 1898, Wells organized an anti-lynching protest at the White House where she and participants demanded federal reform of discriminatory laws.
Wells established the National Association of Colored Women in 1896.
She was involved in the formative stages of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but cut ties with the organization shortly after its creation.