Ida B. Wells is one of the fiercest mothers I've ever had the honor of researching. Her history is nothing short of jaw-dropping. In the United States of America, we're taught about Rosa Parks and her work in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks was the brave black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus, remember? Well, what if I told you that Ida B. Wells did the same - and WON a court case about it (later that decision was overturned) - SEVENTY-ONE years earlier! How in the world did my history classes fail to teach me about this astonishingly bold warrior woman?!?!
Born into slavery a few months before President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Ida became a passionate advocate for equal rights across the board. As one of the suffragettes, she fought for women to have the right to vote. Of course, as a black woman, her own struggles in life as a woman were compounded by the racial inequality of the time. She became a hugely important figure in the early Civil Rights movement, and went on to be one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Ida lost both of her parents at the age of 16 to illness, leaving her and her five siblings at risk of being separated. To prevent that, Ida went to work as a teacher. She moved the family to Memphis to earn a better wage, and eventually became the co-owner of a newspaper: The Memphis Free Speech And Headlight. In 1884, Ida was asked to give up her seat on a train so a white woman could sit in her place. She refused. Eventually, the railway sued her and she hired a white attorney to counter their suit. The local circuit court ruled in her favor, awarding her $500. Of course, the railway appealed this ruling and the Tennessee Supreme Court eventually overturned the ruling, forcing Wells to pay court costs.
"I felt so disappointed because I had hoped such great things from my suit for my people...O God, is there no...justice in this land for us?"
In the 1890s, Wells focused much of her investigative journalism on lynching. Meticulously recording instance of lynching throughout the country, Wells became convinced that lynching was a tool used by white people to oppress black people. Her work drew attention - from both friend and foe. In part, this was due to her experience as a witness to lynchings of those dear to her.
A close friend of Wells', Thomas Moss, owned a successful grocery store that competed with a nearby white-owned grocery store. One day, a white mob descended on Moss's store. During the altercation, three white men were shot and injured. In retaliation, Moss and two other black men, McDowell and Stewart, were arrested. While they awaited trial, a white lynch mob stormed the jail, dragging Moss and the two other men into the street where they were killed.
Wells published her findings on lynch law in a pamphlet, "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law In All Its Phases." Shortly after, she left to go on a business trip. In her absence, the offices of The Memphis Free Speech And Headlight were burned to the ground by angry white mobs. Eventually, threats of violence forced Wells to relocate to Chicago, where she continued her investigative reporting on lynch mentality.
"Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so."
As a leader in the black community, Wells founded The Women's Era Club, a novel women's civic group for African American women in Chicago. She also founded the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs and the National Afro-American Council. On a national level, women were organizing for the right to vote. Ida B. Wells took note, forming the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, the very first African-American club dedicated to gaining women's right to vote. Her lifelong pursuit of equality shaped every single one of her life choices, including her choice to marry - but hyphenate her name - and to bear four children, one of whom she named Ida.
Ida B. Wells is one of the boldest, bravest, and determined women to grace the face of this planet. She is an inspiration to moms everywhere - not because she was a domestic goddess, but because she stood for what was right. She risked everything. She lost much. But we are the beneficiaries of her sacrifice; she deserves our honor and respect.
Have you ever heard of Ida B. Wells before? Why do you think that is? Which Badass Mothers would you like me to research next? Share your ideas with me on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 with #BadassMothers.