A Short History of Ida B. Wells


The Ida B. Wells development is one of the oldest housing developments in the U.S. In this first installment of a two-part series, we will find out just who was Ida B. Wells. The second part of this series, which will appear in the upcoming issue of Residents’ Journal, will be a history of the public housing development named after Ida B. Wells.

I’ve read that her birthdate is unknown and some books read 1862. Whenever she was born, it was a blessing.

Ida B. Wells grew up in poverty-stricken conditions. She was a teenager when she lost both her parents within 24 hours of each other.

Being the oldest sibling, she had the responsibility of supporting her younger sisters and brothers. She lied about her age. Although she was only 14 years old, she looked older and she took a teaching job in Memphis.

The difference between white and Black schools was so obvious that she criticized the insufficient manner that the Memphis school board handled the Black school. She lost her teaching job because of her critical analysis.

Ida B. attended college and after college she became editor of the Freespeech newspaper. She campaigned against the lynching of Black men, which was common practice at that time.

Ida B.had friends that were killed because white men saw them as being too uppity with their grocery stores. She wrote about the way her friends were dragged into the streets and then were riddled full of bullets.

Her exposes made her the next target for racism. Her office was destroyed along with her press but Ida. B. was well hidden. The culprits searched for her to no avail.

Ida B. went to New York, N.Y., and joined the staff of the N.Y. Age. She lectured in U.S. and England. Then she married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, who was the publisher of the first Black newspaper of Chicago, the Chicago Conservator.

Ms. Wells worked with W.E.B. Dubois against Booker T. Washington on several occasions and they didn’t see eye to eye about the racial problems in America.

Booker T. Washington felt that Blacks could achieve their rights through economic empowerment. Ida B. Declared that Washington was wrong in saying that. She asked, “How could we accomplish success if we were being lynched?”

Wells’ fight was based around her most famous quote:

“Nowhere in the civilized world except in the U.S. do men go out in bands of 50 to 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death a single individual unarmed and absolutely powerless.”

Wells’ home is located at 3624 S. King Drive and is a historical landmark.

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