by Sarah Morris
From a young age, I have always had a passion for writing and how beautiful it can be. One thing I realized as I was growing up is that writing can be more than just writing a story or completing an essay assignment. Pen on paper, words typed on a screen, can be used to accomplish something, persuade someone to change their opinions, or in Ida B. Wells’ case, fight for racial equality and justice. Because I have a love for writing, I was truly inspired by Wells’ use of literature to work towards earning the American people’s care towards a cause she believed in. She was brutally honest about the terrible abuse African Americans suffered through and discrimination they faced even after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist who fought for equal treatment of races and sexes. This activist may best be known for her anti-lynching crusade. Born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862, Wells saw racial injustice throughout her entire life, particularly when living in the South. Though “declared free by the Emancipation Proclamation shortly after her birth … racial prejudices were still very prevalent in the time that she grew up in Mississippi.” She witnessed the mistreatment of her friends because of their race, as well as being ill-treated herself.
Ida Wells had to grow up quickly, cutting her childhood short at only 16. Her parents, “as well as one of her siblings, fell ill and died of yellow fever, leaving Wells on her own to provide for her younger sisters and brothers.” To provide for them, she convinced a local school that she was 18 years of age and landed a job as a teacher. She cared for her siblings this way until 1882, when she moved the family to Memphis, Tennessee, to live with her aunt.
Wells began her work as a journalist and racial equality activist after being discriminated against on a train ride from Memphis to Nashville. Wells bought a first-class ticket, but was instructed to move to the car designated for African Americans by the train crew. She was outraged and refused to comply, causing her to be forcefully removed from the train. As a part of her defiance, she bit one of the men trying to escort her on the hand. She sued the railroad for the injustice and won a $500 settlement that was later overturned. Anger rose up within Wells, inspiring her to write about political and racial issues in the South. She went by the moniker “Iola” for these writings and became a published author. She even worked to become a co-owner of the Memphis newspaper titled Free Speech and Headlight. While working in publishing and journalism, Wells also was a teacher in a segregated school. Ida Wells greatly criticized the conditions of the African American learning facilities. Due to her vocal criticism, her teaching contract was not renewed in 1891.
In 1892, Ida B. Wells’ passion towards fighting for racial equality reached its peak. Three of her friends, who were all African American men, opened their own grocery store, named The People’s Grocery. This business attracted a great amount of customers, drawing business away from a local white-owned store. On the evening of March 9th, white men who worked for competing businesses gathered outside of The People’s Grocery, confronting and attacking the three black owners. In protection of their store, the men fired at the white attackers, shooting many of them. As a result, Ida’s friends were arrested. While the three were in their jail cells, a white lynch mob broke into the prison, capturing Ida’s friends and executing them. The horrid murders of these men compelled Wells to further her mission. She wrote several articles about the heart-breaking, unjustified deaths of her friends. Invigorated, she traveled around the South for a couple of months, collecting information on a variety of lynchings. With her expanded knowledge, she wrote more pieces on these brutal killings, such as the pamphlet “Southern Horrors.” However, these writings enraged some, resulting in a mob to break into her work office, trashing her equipment and threatening to end her life. Fortunately, Wells was not at her workplace in Memphis at the time of this event and she never returned there, staying in the North after the death threat.
While living in Chicago, Ida B. Wells continued publishing and began her fight for a different cause: women’s rights and suffrage. Even though Ida added a new cause to her list, she continued to balance her protests against segregation and lynching. In 1895, she published her book about the statistics and supposed causes of lynchings. In 1898, Wells was appointed secretary of the National Afro-American Council. There was no stopping Ida B. Wells from speaking out and taking action. She continued to seek justice for the black lives ended by lynching and she stopped the segregation of a Chicago school. Wells was so passionate about actions speaking louder than words that after she co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she later discontinued her involvement with the group, claiming they were not action based.
To kick off her activism in women’s suffrage campaigns, Wells formed the Alpha Suffrage League for African American women. She repeatedly protested against the popular National American Woman Suffrage Association’s methods because of their stance that did not allow African Americans to participate in their organization. Ida B. Wells fought against discrimination of any kind throughout her entire life. Even when Wells had children to raise at home, she did not give up her hard work. She was fully committed to making a difference in the world. Towards the end of Ida’s life, she competed to be elected as president of the National Association of Colored Women and in 1930, Wells also ran for Illinois State Senate. Unfortunately, she failed to be elected to either position, but that does not discount her bravery to be “one of the first black women in the nation to run for public office.” Wells’ use of journalism is truly inspiring, proving that anyone can pick up a pen and write towards making a difference in the world. Her courage is evident in how she always stood up for herself and never allowed anyone to push her around. The fierce independence and strong-willingness of Ida B. Wells encourages every generation not to tolerate discrimination, but to speak out against it.
Sarah Morris is a 17 year-old dual enrollment student who attends West Hall High School, as well as taking classes at University of North Georgia. Sarah aspires to be a successful author, writing fiction books. She has a passion for writing as well as reading and studying literature. Sarah is happiest when she is with her closest friends and family. Her free time is spent in a variety of ways, which includes: listening to music, watching tv shows and movies, and spoiling her pet cats and dogs.
 Biography.com Editors. "Ida B. Wells Biography." Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 29 July 2016.
 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Ida B. Wells-Barnett." About.com Education. About.com, 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 29 July 2016.
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 Black, Patti Carr. "Ida B. Wells: A Courageous Voice for Civil Rights." Mississippi History Now. Mississippi Historical Society, n.d. Web. 29 July 2016.