Ida B. Wells-Barnett

by Mary Goljenboom

A starter

  • sends out a current that sparks operation
  • sets off a reaction and causes ingredients to change
  • gives the signal for something to begin

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a starter.

She’s remembered today as an investigative journalist who detailed the barbarism and hypocrisy that underpinned the lynching of black men. Her articles, pamphlets, and editorials so inflamed white racists that they destroyed her newspaper’s offices and the type that allowed her words to be printed and distributed. But Ida just joined another prominent black newspaper and carried her crusade forward. In her career, she edited at least five newspapers, founding two of them and having all- or partial ownership in the other three.

Words, type, ink, and paper were not her only weapons for fighting racism. She was also a community organizer. With great entrepreneurial spirit, she started the first African-American women’s club in Chicago, the Ida B. Wells Club (which established a kindergarten for black children); the Negro Fellowship League, a settlement house; and the Alpha Suffrage Club, Chicago’s first suffrage club for black women. Nationally, Wells-Barnett was instrumental in starting the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), the first national black women’s organization.

Whether she was starting a newspaper or establishing an association, Wells-Barnett applied an entrepreneur’s zeal to the tasks. She found the people, facilities, and finances with which to build and inspired others to do the same. Her passion for justice was a current that sparked many operations.

Ida. B. Wells-Barnett was honored in 2020 with a posthumous Pulitzer Prize “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against Black Americans during the era of lynching.”

Originally published March 25, 2013. Copyright 2020 Ferret Research, Inc.