Courageous Reporting

Ida Wells was born a slave but was freed when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Ida was one of the few African-Americans who could go to college but that was halted when her parents died of yellow fever. She stopped her education and went to work as a teacher so she could help raise her six siblings.

Although small in stature, Ida was a fierce advocate for human rights. In addition to teaching, Ida became a journalist, writing about social justice issues. She was fired from her teaching job because of her honesty as a journalist.

Ida became outraged at the lynchings occurring throughout the South. She wrote about lynchings in a very personal way by giving the victims’ names. She told their personal stories and she helped her readers understand the personal side of injustice. From 1877-1950, 4,075 African-Americans were lynched in 12 southern states.

Once her stories gained traction, Ida’s life was in danger. The newspaper offices were burned. Ida was forced to leave the South. But she continued to write about lynchings. In one year (1901), there were 138 lynchings and 6 African-Americans burned alive.

Ida became one of the founders of the NAACP and began to experience sexism from her colleagues who didn’t believe that a woman should be the leader of civil rights. As a result, she became a leader in the fight for women’s right to vote.

Ida was ahead of her time in protesting for social justice. This turned off many of her colleagues who advocated for less aggressive actions. Ida died in 1931. The legacy of more aggressive activism was later adopted by Martin Luther King and others.

In tribute to Ida’s memory, the New York Times published her obituary in 2018, 87 years after her death, in a series of overlooked lives lived. In 2020, she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation posthumously “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”

It’s remarkable to see the impact that one person can have in bringing awareness of social injustice to the attention of all of us. Ida Wells is not a name that is well known in the fight for civil rights, but she laid the foundation for civil rights reforms long after her death. When protestors formed outside the Tennessee State Capitol, the area where the protestors formed became known as the Ida Wells Plaza. Pioneers for Progress must often put their own lives in danger for what they believe in.

Just imagine what Ida Wells would be writing about the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police. Might these be the modern-day equivalent of lynchings? Just imagine what Ida Wells would be writing about on voting restrictions that are appearing in a number of states. Just imagine what grade Ida Wells might give to the United States on social justice.

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            “The world howls for social justice, but when it comes to social responsibility, you can’t even hear crickets chirping.”

– Dean Koontz (Author)

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