Ida B. Wells was a well-established journalist who lived during the late 19th century and the early 20th century. She was born in Mississippi in 1862 to James and Elizabeth Wells, who were enslaved until the Emancipation Proclamation. When Ida was 16, both of her parents and her youngest brother were killed by a yellow fever epidemic. Ida took the responsibility of looking after and providing for her five remaining siblings. Wells moved to Memphis with her aunt where she made many connections with nationally renowned figures focused on the betterment of African-American society.
While in Memphis, Wells became a leading figure in the community. She wrote her first article in 1884 and by 1889 was the co-owner of the Free Speech and Headlight paper. Wells was also elected to the position of National Press Association secretary. In 1892, three of Wells’ friends were wrongfully lynched. Until this event, Ida had supported the idea of lynching as a punishment for crimes. She began to take a closer look at lynching and was astonished by what she discovered. This prompted Ida to launch her anti-lynching campaign.
After being exiled from Memphis, Ida found a writing position for the New York Age. On June 25, 1892, Ida published an article depicting her exile from Memphis. This gave her anti-lynching campaign the momentum it needed to get off the ground. Lynching was a common practice in the south during the late 19th century. At first it was used as a way to serve justice for crimes. But it quickly evolved; whites used lynching as a way to control the African-American population with the fear of being killed. These events were not isolated what so ever.
The events occurring following the Robert Charles manhunt in New Orleans are a prime example of how lynching was not isolated to the perpetrator at all. Charles was being wrongfully arrested and retaliated. After injuring one of the officers and escaping, the man hunt ensued. Mobs formed quickly began to lose focus. Instead of focusing their anger and rage against Charles, they directed it at any African-American they saw. It was no longer an isolated incident and innocent people were being brutally beaten and killed.
Ida Wells told the story of what happened in New Orleans to help raise awareness to the events that took place. She wanted to show the rest of America that lynching was not isolated and was completely race biased. Mobs of people were walking through the streets beating or killing ever African-American in sight. They didn’t stop there; they killed innocent people while they were sleeping in their houses. While this started with one man, it turned into a city-wide, bloodthirsty, racially biased conviction. Ida Wells published “Mob Rule in New Orleans” on September 1, 1900.
The text within depicted the events that took place during the manhunt and the mass mob lynching. She describes all of the events in detail, starting with the initial confrontation with Charles. Ida also focused on the innocents caught by the mob, and newspaper articles regarding the individuals. Ida Wells writes, “its[the mob] only purpose was to pursue, beat and kill any colored man or woman” (Wells, 191). In the publication, Ida expresses that these events were motivated in no way. She explained that the only cause behind this was race, and that America did have a race problem.
The South was very divide, and the division was dictated solely by race. Lynching was used as a deterrent, a way to scare African-American into accepting oppression. Ida Wells brought light to the nation on the truth about lynching. She showed the North that it was no longer a practice of justice; instead it had become a crucifixion of anyone with dark skin. The anti-lynching campaign kicked off in 1892. In that year there were 241 lynchings as reported by the Chicago Tribune (Wells, 206). By then end of the century, that number was reduced to 107.
It’s no coincidence that the numbers decreased as the campaign grew in strength. The campaign spread the truth about lynching to the nation. Ida Wells was focused on improving the quality of life for all, and she was successful in doing so. She was a very influential person, not only the aspect of anti-lynching, but also on the civil rights front. Her message was heard loud and clear across the nation. Her efforts to stop lynching and improve the quality of life were very successful, paving her way into the history books.
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