Episode 104-Ida B Wells (plus Shownotes!)

Ida B Wells used her words to rock the boat and write about the horror that was happening in the south. As an educated black woman, she saw first hand the extreme injustice in the south and spoke against it. The world isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but somehow this episode contains a message about the power of standing up for what’s right. As a warning to listeners, this episode contains graphic descriptions of racial atrocities.

  • Ida B. Wells was born in 1862 right before the emancipation proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln in Mississippi
  • Her parents were James and Lizzie Wells who were enslaved by an architect named Spires Bolling, apparently, he was an architect
  • She had 8 siblings
  • When she was 16 she was kicked out of Shaw college for being too rebellious after confronting the president of the college
  • She was visiting her grandmother when her parents and her youngest sibling died of yellow fever
  • People decided that they would split the six siblings up and put them in foster care but Ida did not like that idea
  • She got a job as a teacher at a black elementary school in which she worked during the week and her grandmother cared for her siblings
  • She noticed that she made only $30 a week whereas her white counterparts made $80 a week
  • She moved away from Mississippi to Memphis as she could make more money in Memphis
  • She was on a train one day when a conductor tried to get her to move and give her first class seat (which she’d paid for!) to a white person and go to coach
  • She refused and was kicked out of the train by two guys
  • She hired an attorney, attorney was paid off by train company, hired a white attorney and he won her case
  • She was awarded $500
  • She started writing for magazines on racial discrimination and activism and in fact became the co-owner and editor of a magazine called Free Speech and Headlight which flourished from endorsements from a local church. That was 1889
  • In 1891 the Memphis school district fired her because of her articles on racial discrimination in the Memphis school district
  • The People’s Grocery was a grocery store started by Ida B. Well’s friend Thomas Moss
    • It did very well and was in competition with the grocery store owned by a white man across the street
    • Two boys were playing with marbles outside of the grocery store
    • When the two boys, one of which was black, started arguing the father of the white boy came and started beating the black boy
    • The grocery store attendants saw what was happening and ran over to try and stop the man from beating the boy at which point the father of the white boy was supposedly hit with a club
    • There was a riot the next day in which a bunch of white people showed up and stormed the grocery store in self-defense one of the attendants of the grocery store got a gun
    • Three white men were shot
    • The attendants were arrested and put in jail (there were three of them)
    • A crowd of about 75 men in black masks stormed the jail took the three attendants and were brutally killed
      • McDowell struggled and so they seemed to torture him by shooting his fingers bit by bit till he didn’t have any fingers left
        • They shot four holes into his head big enough for fists to enter
        • His left eye was shot out
        • His jaw was shot out with a buckshot
        • Where his right eye had been there was a large hole where his brains were “oozing out”
      • Will Stewart was shot in the neck and in the head
      • Moss was shot in the neck
        • His last words are reported to be “Tell my people to go west, there is no justice for them here.”


  • Ida B. Wells did not like this she wrote in the press that black should not stay in Memphis and that it wasn’t safe for them She said this: “There is, therefore, only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”
  • Over 6,000 black people left Memphis
  • Other organized boycotts of white businesses and she started receiving death threats so she bought a gun and stayed
  • She wrote in editorials how lynching was a way that white people got rid of influential and politically active black people
  • “The fact that a black scoundrel is allowed to live and utter such
    loathsome and repulsive calumnies is a volume of evidence as to the
     wonderful patience of Southern whites. But we have had enough of it.” From The Daily Commercial May 25 (year unclear) against Ida B. Wells
  • Nobody in this section of the country believes the old threadbare lie
     that Negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful,
     they will overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a
     reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging
     to the moral reputation of their women.

    • In response to the above someone wrote this “The fact that a black scoundrel is allowed to live and utter such
      loathsome and repulsive calumnies is a volume of evidence as to the
       wonderful patience of Southern whites. But we have had enough of it.” From The Daily Commercial May 25 (year unclear) against Ida B. Wells
    • The best way to explain Southern Horrors and Ida’s writing is from Wikipedia and says “She followed this with an editorial that suggested that unlike the myth that white women were sexually at risk of attacks by black men, most liaisons between black men and white women were consensual”
    • She wrote about Sarah Clarke, a woman who lived and was in love with a black man and was indicted for miscegenation (mixing of races) and she claimed she wasn’t white to escape prison
  • She wrote about how lynching was a spectacle to many: In 1893 she wrote about the lynching of Henry Smith who had iron brands placed on his body for almost an hour and burned his eyes out and thrust red hot irons down his throat
    • They set him on fire and when he jumped out of the fire pit (alive!) they pushed him back in
    • They made a watch charm from his kneecap, his clothes were kept as mementos, photographers sold postcards of the lynching and sold recordings of his screams
  • While she was in Philadelphia a mob destroyed her office and warned her not to come back to Memphis
  • She went to New York
  • She wrote articles about the exclusion of black people from the world’s fair of 1893 which took place in Chicago
  • In 1895 she married Ferdinand L. Barnett who was a respected attorney and widower who had two sons  
    • He also had a newspaper in which Ida wrote
  • She kept working after the birth of her son bringing the infant as she toured the country and eventually decided it was too much and took a step back
    • Susan B. Anthony said that she seemed distracted from her work during this time
  • One of the founders of the NAACP but was excluded by the list by the main founder in his autobiography it said she chose not to be included, in her autobiography she said it was because he excluded her from the list
  • Her autobiography was never actually finished as she died from kidney failure on March 25, 1931, she was 68










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