Categories: Black History

by Jeanne Gehret


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Ida B. Wells Activist Against Lynching

Susan B. Anthony Champions Ida B. Wells

In 1895, Susan B. Anthony went out for the day instructing her (white) stenographer to help her guest, journalist Ida B. Wells, to catch up on her correspondence. When Susan returned, the journalist was doing her own typing while the stenographer sat idle. Asked why she was not helping Wells, the white
woman responded with a racial slur.

On the spot, Susan fired her. Losing this employee came at quite a cost to Susan, who had hired the stenographer to help handle an oppressive mountain of paperwork.

Ida B. Wells was one of the most famous black women of the late 19th century. Three years before visiting Anthony, she owned a press in Memphis, TN. There the lynching of three friends jolted her into activism. The black men started a grocery across the street from a white man’s grocery, cutting into the latter’s profits. A mob of whites trashed the blacks’ store and, in the melee, three white men suffered injuries. In short order, the mob jailed and lynched the black grocers.

Investigative Journalism

After that, Wells wrote Lynch Laws in Georgia, showing that, contrary to the popular belief, lynching was not reserved for black criminals. Instead, her investigative reports showed, it was used to terrorize and subdue African-Americans who threatened the economic and political clout of whites.

Her paper urged black townspeople to leave Memphis, prompting 6,000 people to do so. Soon, she experienced death threats and the destruction of her office and press. After she moved to Chicago, her stories received widespread coverage in other black-owned presses nationwide. She never stopped fighting for justice for African-Americans and women, and founded several national organizations.

Some statements by Susan B. Anthony have been interpreted as racist. However, Susan’s treatment of Ida B. Wells, as well as Susan’s early career as an abolitionist, give some evidence to the contrary.