Living Legacy of Ida B. Wells-Barnett Continues to Uplift
Defiant, courageous and impassioned, journalist-activist set a high bar for what women can achieve
By Lynn Norment
Ida B. Wells Barnett was an extraordinary human being. She was fearless and determined as an anti-lynching crusader and feminist. And she was among the nation’s first notable investigative journalists and a civil rights activist before that title was commonly used.
Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862, six months before emancipation, she crafted a meaningful life of service to her family and her people despite the odds. She didn’t let her race, age or gender deter her.
On July 16, 2021, the first public statue honoring Wells will be erected in Memphis. The Ida B. Wells Memorial Committee, in partnership with Neshoba Community Resource Center, will dedicate a life-size bronze statue that will be the centerpiece of the Ida B. Wells Plaza. It will be located at the intersection of Beale and Fourth streets, near where Wells’ newspaper was located, and an important point of the Memphis Heritage Trail.
“Too many people, especially our young people, don’t know who Ida B. Wells was,” says Dr. LaSimba Gray Jr., Memphis activist leading the effort to honor Wells. “But the statue and plaza will extol her contributions to the struggle for equality and justice for her people – African American people.”
In 2020, Wells was honored with a Pulitzer Prize special citation “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”
Young Ida was the oldest girl of eight children born to carpenter James Wells and his wife Lizzie Wells, who was well-known for her cooking. Active in the Freedman’s Aid Society, James Wells helped found Shaw University (now Rust College) for newly-freed slaves. Ida Wells got her early schooling at Shaw. At age 16, after Ida’s parents and baby brother died during a yellow fever outbreak, she cared for her five younger siblings by teaching school. When she was 20, she moved with her two youngest sisters to Memphis to live with an aunt and continued teaching while also studying at Fisk College and the precursor to LeMoyne-Owen College.
Wells purchased a first-class train ticket from Memphis to Nashville, and became enraged when she was ordered to the car for “Negroes.” She refused and was dragged from the train. She sued the railroad in 1884 and eventually won a $500 settlement. A federal court overturned the ruling.
An article Wells wrote about her case was published in Memphis and reprinted in Black newspapers across the country. Outspoken, proud and fearless, she continued to write about politics, race and school inequality in the South, which led to her losing her teaching job. At 25 she began writing fulltime. As editor of the Free Speech and Headlight newspaper, she began speaking across the country and soon purchased co-ownership of the newspaper.
Violence against successful Black businesses and landowners grew rampant during that era. In 1892, three of Wells’ friends who owned a grocery store were hanged. In her autobiography, she wrote “the lynching in Memphis . . . changed the whole course of my life.” Despite danger to herself, Wells traveled the South to investigate lynchings and published her findings. She was offered money to stop writing about the crimes, but refused. In retaliation, Wells’ newspaper offices were destroyed and her life threatened. Fortunately, she was out of town at the time.
Wells then traveled across the U.S. and to England to expose the cruelty of lynching and racism. And she continued to write about crimes against Black people at the New York Age. In 1893, she protested the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and published a pamphlet questioning the exclusion of Black representation. She also published “A Red Record,” which focused on lynching. Wells even took her anti-lynching campaign to the White House, protesting and calling for President William McKinley to make reforms.
Wells resettled in Chicago and in 1895 married attorney activist Ferdinand L. Barnett, founder of the city’s first Black newspaper. The couple had four children.
Wells did much more than write and lecture about racial and social injustices; she took action to make things better. Early on she was elected secretary of the Colored Press Association. She also was a founding member of the organization that became the NAACP, and a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club. Despite exclusion from most white suffrage groups, she created the Alpha Suffrage Club to promote the right of women to vote. During a national suffrage protest, she refused to join at the end of the line.
A popular and respected speaker, Wells also helped found the Negro Fellowship League to improve the lives of Black men. And she called for President Woodrow Wilson to end discrimination in hiring for government jobs.
In 1930, Wells was candidate for the Illinois State Senate, becoming the first Black woman to seek public office in the United States. She died the following year of kidney disease.
Ida B. Wells established a rich legacy of battling social and political injustice while using a strong voice and strong pen. Today, as African Americans continue to confront ongoing discrimination, we all can learn from the fiery, brilliant and forward-thinking Ida B. Wells. She was an incredible role model and inspiration to all.
Black Women Athletes Inspire All to Reach Highest Levels
By Mike Patton
NASHVILLE, TN — Millions of kids grow up playing sports. As time goes by people graduate from playing youth sports to middle school and high school sports with the numbers of those playing steadily decline.
Some will get involved in college sports. In 1972, Title IX was instituted to even the playing field for women. Today, about 44 percent of collegiate athletes are women. Black women make up roughly 16 percent of women involved in sports. That is a total of 35,600 Black women who are in collegiate sports.
So the women who succeed beat the odds to be not only college players but memorable, historic and record-breaking athletes.
These Black women from Tennessee have left their mark and have shown the next generation what can be accomplished.
Crystal Dangerfield “I hate to lose more than I love to win,” says the Murfreesboro-born native. The will to win has been with
And in one of the most challenging years in the WNBA in the Wubble in 2020 with no fans, Dangerfield shined. The former Blackman high school star led the Minnesota Lynx with 16.2 points per game and became the lowest ever draft pick (16th pick in the second round of the WNBA Draft) to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Being shorter than most on the court may have bothered others, but not Dangerfield. She met the challenge, exceeded it and made WNBA history.
Mariah Smith There are not very many Black women who play golf but one discovered her love for the game at age 12. That’s how Smith got into the game and she has been loving it
Teresa Phillips The Chattanooga native was the first Black female athlete at
Vanderbilt women’s basketball was unheard of when Teresa Phillips first came to Vanderbilt. Phillips was attending Vanderbilt when in 1978, the school decided to make women’s basketball a sport on the Division 1 level. Phillips played center part of that first team.
Phillips would not only make history at Vanderbilt during her playing days, but she would go on to make history in life after playing when she moved over to Tennessee State University.
She was a successful women’s basketball coach for Tennessee State, coaching 11 seasons and guiding them to their first OVC title and NCAA Tournament appearances.
Along with that bit of Tennessee State history, when she moved to athletic director at Tennessee State after her coaching days, she made history again when she moved back to the coaching ranks for one game.
For one game back in 2003, Phillips was back on the sideline, this time for the men’s basketball team as coach, becoming the first woman in NCAA history to coach a men’s team in basketball. Phillips and firsts are two things that just seem to go together naturally.
Wilma Rudolph She was one of the most influential athletes in Tennessee State history. But it almost didn’t happen for her. The
St. Bethlehem native (city would become officially part of Clarksville) had polio that caused an issue in her left foot.
But after treatment at Meharry Medical College and wearing a brace for years, at age 12 she was able to walk without it. Rudolph would go on to star in track and field along with basketball in high school, but it was track where she made her mark.
Ed Temple, who was then the track coach at Tennessee State, ran a track program and invited Rudolph to it when she was 14. From there, success followed her. In 1956, as a sophomore in high school, she qualified for the Olympics in the 200 meters after attending trials in Seattle, Washington.
She was the youngest member of the Olympic team at that time. She would win a bronze medal that year and in the 1960 Olympics, she would become the first American woman to win a gold medal in the 100 meter dash since Helen Stephens in 1936.
Artenzia Young-Seigler Dr. Young-Seigler may not be a name many are familiar with, but she did something that no other Black
Before becoming a referee, she was a player in the National Women’s Football league and even coached her son’s little league football team, but there was something else calling her.
“I just loved the game and wanted to do something else with it.”
Interestingly enough, she was doing all this while being an assistant professor at Tennessee State University.
By Sandra Long Weaver
Tribune Editorial Director
There are just a few days left to see “A Journey of Inspiration,” an exhibit of sculptures by Hattie Marshall-Duncan presented by the
Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center in Hendersonville.
She is the recipient of the 2019 Tennessee Governor’s Folklife Heritage Award. Duncan is a self-taught artist who uses clay and found objects into very imaginative sculptures named after family and friends. More than 30 of her works are on display through March 21.
Also on display is an exhibit of quilts created by members of the community for each of the last four Black History months. One more is to be created in 2022.
More information can be found at monthavenartsandcluturalcenter.com or call 615-822-0789.