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← The Courageous Life of Ida B. Wells #OrdinaryWomen

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Showing Revision 1 created 11/21/2016 by Ebony Adams.

  1. There's something irresistible about
  2. underdog stories,
  3. where remarkable people rise
  4. from humble beginnings
  5. to do incredible things against all the odds.
  6. But few stories are as dramatic as that of
  7. Ida B. Wells.
  8. A woman who was born a slave in Mississippi,
  9. in the midst of the Civil War,
  10. and became a daring investigative reporter
  11. and civil rights crusader,
  12. who would one day be called
  13. "the loudest and most persistent voice for truth"
  14. in an era of injustice.
  15. From an early age, Wells carried
  16. exceptional burdens with exceptional courage.
  17. She became the head of her household
  18. at the age of 16 when both her parents
  19. died suddenly from yellow fever.
  20. In order to support her five brothers and sisters,
  21. she curtailed her education and started working
  22. as a school teacher in rural Mississippi.
  23. When she was 21 years old,
  24. Wells boarded a train to Memphis
  25. and seated herself in the first-class ladies car,
  26. only to be told that black women were restricted
  27. to second class.
  28. Not only did she bite the conductor who tried
  29. to remove her, she soon filed a discrimination
  30. lawsuit against the railroad company.
  31. She won the initial case,
  32. and while it was overturned on appeal,
  33. an article she wrote about the experience
  34. helped launch her career as a journalist.
  35. Wells' life changed forever in 1892,
  36. when her friend, Thomas Moss, was murdered
  37. by a white mob in Memphis
  38. along with two other black men.
  39. Their brutal killings inspired Wells to speak out
  40. against the horrors of lynching,
  41. an increasingly common tool of terror
  42. used against black people in the decades
  43. after the Civil War.
  44. Black men were often falsely accused of rape
  45. in order to justify their murders.
  46. But in a series of widely-read
  47. articles and pamphlets,
  48. Wells argued that lynching had little to do
  49. with protecting the honor of women,
  50. and everything to do with protecting the power of
  51. southern white men.
  52. Like so many civil rights leaders who would
  53. follow in her footsteps, including the
  54. civil rights leaders of today,
  55. her criticisms were powerful because
  56. they took aim not just
  57. at the misdeeds of individuals,
  58. but at the unexamined institutions of racism
  59. and power behind them.
  60. Her groundbreaking analysis changed
  61. the national conversation around lynching,
  62. and ever her future mentor, Frederick Douglass
  63. called his writing on the subject
  64. "feeble" in comparison.
  65. Wells was the co-owner and editor of
  66. a black newspaper in Memphis.
  67. After one of her anti-lynching articles
  68. displeased the white community,
  69. an angry mob stormed the office of the paper
  70. and destroyed it.
  71. Faced with death threats,
  72. Wells started carrying a pistol in her purse,
  73. but refused to back down from her
  74. anti-lynching campaign.
  75. She said it was better to die
  76. fighting against injustice,
  77. than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.
  78. After that, she relocated to New York,
  79. where she began to publish investigative
  80. journalism for an even larger audience,
  81. including pamphlets that collected statistical
  82. documentation of lynching in the South.
  83. Her popular anti-lynching speeches
  84. eventually took her to Britain,
  85. where white audiences seemed far more
  86. outraged than many of their
  87. American counterparts.
  88. Her overseas speaking tour inspired
  89. international condemnation of lynching,
  90. particularly from British newspapers and politicians.
  91. And elevated Wells to the most visible national
  92. leader in the anti-lynching movement.
  93. Although Wells often criticized herself
  94. for being stubborn and hot-tempered,
  95. those same qualities made her a fiery orator
  96. and a relentless crusader against injustice.
  97. Faced with death threats from southern Whites
  98. and criticism from moderate black reformers,
  99. who considered her too radical,
  100. Wells refused to compromise her ideals
  101. for the sake of comfort, convenience,
  102. or even personal safety.
  103. "The way to right wrongs is to turn
  104. the light of truth upon them,"
  105. wrote Wells, who never failed to speak
  106. unpleasant truths even when it cost her friends
  107. or potential allies.
  108. Although surrounded by hostility and threats
  109. from people who wanted to punish
  110. her outspokenness because of
  111. her race and her gender,
  112. she refused to be silenced.
  113. Although she fought for women's rights,
  114. Wells was often disappointed by white suffragists
  115. who considered racial issues a distraction
  116. from the fight against sexism.
  117. Some even endorsed segregation.
  118. During the famous women's suffrage parade of 1913,
  119. when black women were told to walk at the back,
  120. Wells simply waited until the march started
  121. and defiantly joined her states' delegation.
  122. Similarly, she was frustrated by those in the
  123. black community who saw women's rights as
  124. unimportant to the fight against racism.
  125. Caught between the struggles of her race and her gender,
  126. Wells often felt like she fought alone.
  127. Although she had many suitors,
  128. and withstood enormous social pressure to marry,
  129. Wells remained single throughout her twenties.
  130. In her early 30s, she finally met her match
  131. in Ferdinand Barnett,
  132. a black lawyer who was equally passionate about
  133. social justice and a man who wholeheartedly
  134. supported her career.
  135. They married and had four children together
  136. and while Wells would eventually step down
  137. from her full-time position as a newspaper editor,
  138. she continued her work as a reformer
  139. until the day she died.
  140. When she passed away in 1931 at the age of 69,
  141. Ida B. Wells had profoundly changed the way that
  142. people had looked at race, gender,
  143. and violence in America.
  144. She transformed herself from a slave who was
  145. regarded as property,
  146. to someone once described as a
  147. woman who walked as if she owned the world.