Journalist and activist Ida B. Wells paved the way for women today

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Angelica Tejada

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a powerful journalist, activist and researcher whose lifetime of work has had a large impact on society.

From utilizing the power of writing to expose the unjust treatment of African Americans in the South to revealing the racism in the suffrage movement – Wells-Barnett cannot go unrecognized this Women’s History Month.

Wells-Barnett was born into slavery during the Civil War in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and was orphaned at the age of 16 when her parents died from a yellow fever epidemic. To help her family, she became an educator and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, according to the National Women’s History Museum.

After the lynching of Thomas Moss in 1892, Wells-Barnett began her anti-lynching campaign where she reported on similar lynching cases across the South. She published her work in The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, which was a newspaper she co-owned and edited.

“Her goal was to question a stereotype that was often used to justify lynchings — that black men were rapists. Instead, she found that in two-thirds of mob murders, rape was never an accusation. And she often found evidence of what had actually been a consensual interracial relationship” The New York Times reported.

Wells-Barnett’s work as a journalist resonates with many to this day because she wrote with conviction and was bold in shedding light on the lynchings that went unnoticed in the South.

The articles she wrote sought to tell the stories of those that were silenced. That’s admirable work.

Her articles gained attention from the public; some were captivated by her work while others were enraged. After receiving serious death threats, Wells-Barnett moved from Memphis to Chicago, Illinois.

“There has been no word equal to it in convincing power,” Frederick Douglass wrote to Wells, according to The New York Times. “I have spoken, but my word is feeble in comparison.”

Wells-Barnett is too often a figure of the civil rights movement that is overlooked, and her activism has to be acknowledged more.

The courage and bravery that Wells-Barnett had, as a Black woman, to publicize the common narratives on the lynchings that took place and the overall racism that reeked and still does, is something that must be accounted for.

According to The Guardian, in 1909, Wells-Barnett “was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), although was later ousted because she was perceived as too ‘radical.’”

The inclusion of Black women in the suffrage movement was another mission Wells-Barnett took on with full force. She spoke on the racism that was present in the movement.

While the suffrage movement broke barriers for women, it failed to account for the Black women’s experiences.

“When I saw that we were likely to have a restricted suffrage and the white women of the organization were working like beavers to bring it about, I made another effort to get our women interested,” Wells-Barnett wrote in her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, according to The Washington Post.

What is vital to address about Wells-Barnett speaking out and creating a space for Black women in the suffrage movement is that revolutions for women or Women’s History Month cannot occur correctly if Black women are not given the recognition they deserve.

Women like Wells-Barnett have addressed an issue that exists even in today’s feminism, and that is allowing for representation and inclusion to rise within these narratives of gender equality.

According to The Washington Post, on March 3, 1913 suffragists Lucy Burns and Alice Paul organized a parade in Washington and wanted it to be segregated by race. When Wells-Barnett marched on the frontlines, the women were taken aback.

“I am not taking this stand because I personally wish for recognition,” she wrote later, The Washington Post reported. “I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race.”

Wells-Barnett paved the way for all women everywhere in journalism, politics, education and other areas. During Women’s History Month, and every other day, she should be thanked for her powerful work.