Black History Month: American Journalist Ida B. Wells’ Legacy Celebrated with Doll Made in Her Image
A woman with limited opportunities leaves a legacy of strength and promise in her wake
By Chandler Ray
Ida B. Wells is known for many things: being a Pulitzer prize winner, a civil and women's rights activist, and introducing the innovation of investigative journalism to new audiences. While she is all of those things, to me, Ida B. Wells is a part of the long line of strong black women that allow me the freedoms I have today. Wells investigated and reported many issues within the black community, and while she knew the risks of her actions, she pursued them anyway. Ida B. Wells changed reporting and journalism with her emotionally charged and candid works as she described the social injustices of women and African Americans in the South. Wells most famous work include:
Wells used investigative journalism to expose the injustice white people were inflicting on the black community. She would write countless pieces for the black newspaper, under the fake name of "Lola," and became the first black investigative journalist as she brought the anti-lynching movement to its head.
Wells had always enjoyed writing and had mentioned that writing allowed her the freedom to be herself. It wasn't until her friend was lynched in Memphis that she would use journalism with intention. She was eventually offered a position with a local black newspaper called the "Evening Star" and quickly was offered a writing position at "The Living Way." In 1892, a business dispute between three black men and a group of white men left her friends lynched. This tragedy influenced her famous writings. Wells was angered and wrote an editorial piece focusing on the terrors of lynching. In “A Red Record,” she wrote, "Then the lynchers went quietly away, and the bodies of the woman and men were buried with as little ceremony as men would bury hogs." This angered the white community, and ultimately resulted in her newspaper being closed indefinitely, forcing her to flee to New York and then Chicago. In Chicago, she wrote and published “Southern Horrors,” a series of articles documenting 728 cases of lynching in the South.
Her works, including “Southern Horrors” and “A Red Record,” brought attention to the "rape myth." The rape myth was the justification for lynching black men. This myth was that the lynching of black men was due to the claim that they had sexually assaulted white women. After much investigation, Wells found out this fact was false. In her research, she found that less than one-third of men had assaulted white women but were punished exponentially harsher than their white counterparts. In the “Red Record.” She concluded, “Not only is it true that many of the alleged cases of rape against black men, are like the foregoing, but the same crime committed by white men against black women is never punished by mob or the law.” She found that in most cases, these black victims were targeted based on their business successes or were seen as a threat to a white man's ego. Also, most interracial relationships were consensual, but jealousy from white men led to violence.
Not only did Wells highlight the racial issues found in the South, but she was also a strong advocate for the rights of women. Wells faced a bigger fight due to racism, even within women's suffrage movements. Wells was adamant about calling out the discrimination within the suffragist movement. During the Alpha Suffrage Club march, many white women refused to march if the protest was integrated. In response to this, and to the surprise of many, Wells joined the
march as it began. Despite these challenges, Wells was determined in her fight for women's rights and for her people, in general. She eventually co-founded National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
Ida B. Wells went years before her efforts were truly recognized by all. She was a pioneer in the advancement of investigative journalism and the impacts that writing can have. To celebrate her legacy, Mattel Inc. has recently created a doll for her as part of their Barbie Inspiring Women Series.. Wells was one of the first to challenge the issues of segregation and the laws of Jim Crow. She paved the way for many activists to come forward and continue this journey. The honesty behind her writings, the connection my ancestors had with her cause, and the pathway she paved for black journalists are extremely meaningful to me as a black journalist, myself.
"The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them."
~Ida B. Wells
About the author
Chandler Ray is a Journalism student with a focus in public relations at The University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. She is expected to graduate in Spring 2022.
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Walker, Malea. "Ida B. Wells and the Activism of Investigative Journalism." Ida B. Wells and the Activism of Investigative Journalism | Headlines and Heroes, 12 Feb. 2020, https://blogs.loc.gov/headlinesandheroes/2020/02/ida-b-wells-and-the-activism-of-investigative-journalism/.
Note: Any claims of copyright Infringement on this story are in reference to quotes, names of Wells' work, and the sources cited list. I have scanned my paper multiple times and the only references of copyright are the ones I have just mentioned. I have not used other’s words as my own.