Welcome to our collection of quotes by Ida B. Wells. We hope you enjoy pondering them and please share widely.
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) was an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader in the civil rights movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Over the course of a lifetime dedicated to combating prejudice and violence, and the fight for African-American equality, especially that of women, Wells arguably became the most famous Black woman in America.
Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War. At the age of 16, she lost both her parents and her infant brother in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic. She went to work and kept the rest of the family together with the help of her grandmother. Later, moving with some of her siblings to Memphis, Tennessee, she found better pay as a teacher. Soon, Wells co-owned and wrote for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper. Her reporting covered incidents of racial segregation and inequality.
In the 1890s, Wells documented lynching in the United States in articles and through her pamphlet called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases, investigating frequent claims of whites that lynchings were reserved for Black criminals only. Wells exposed lynching as a barbaric practice of whites in the South used to intimidate and oppress African Americans who created economic and political competition—and a subsequent threat of loss of power—for whites. A white mob destroyed her newspaper office and presses as her investigative reporting was carried nationally in Black-owned newspapers. Subjected to continued threats, Wells left Memphis for Chicago. She married Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895 and had a family while continuing her work writing, speaking, and organizing for civil rights and the women's movement for the rest of her life.
While her work contains extensive documentation of lynchings -- she was one of the first to do so -- her work is notable for its real-time reporting on the prevalent incendiary propaganda about Black rape that was used to justify the practice.
Wells was outspoken regarding her beliefs as a Black female activist and faced regular public disapproval, sometimes including from other leaders within the civil rights movement and the women's suffrage movement. She was active in women's rights and the women's suffrage movement, establishing several notable women's organizations. A skilled and persuasive speaker, Wells traveled nationally and internationally on lecture tours.
In 2020, Wells was posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize special citation "[f]or her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching."
Lynching is color line murder.
It is extremely rough to follow through with my goals, but I felt a responsibility to show the world what the African Americans are facing through this rough patch.
I am only a mouthpiece through which to tell the story of lynching and I have told it so often that I know it by heart. I do not have to embellish; it makes its own way.
A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home.
The doors of churches, hotels, concert halls and reading rooms are alike closed against the Negro as a man, but every place is open to him as a servant.
One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.
I honestly believe I am the only woman in the United States who ever traveled throughout the country with a nursing baby to make political speeches.
The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.
The South resented giving the Afro-American his freedom, the ballot box and the Civil Rights Law.
The Afro-American is not a bestial race.
The Afro-American is not a bestial race. If this work can contribute in any way towards proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service. Other considerations are of minor importance.
No nation, savage or civilized, save only the United States of America, has confessed its inability to protect its women save by hanging, shooting, and burning alleged offenders.
There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms.
The South is brutalized to a degree not realized by its own inhabitants, and the very foundation of government, law and order, are imperilled.
Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.
Our country's national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob.
The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.
What becomes a crime deserving capital punishment when the tables are turned is a matter of small moment when the negro woman is the accusing party.
The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes.
The white man's victory soon became complete by fraud, violence, intimidation and murder.
The appeal to the white man's pocket has ever been more effectual than all the appeals ever made to his conscience.
The mob spirit has grown with the increasing intelligence of the Afro-American.
Brave men do not gather by thousands to torture and murder a single individual, so gagged and bound he cannot make even feeble resistance or defense.
The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival.
The white man's dollar is his god, and to stop this will be to stop outrages in many localities.
The Afro-American is thus the backbone of the South.
The nineteenth century lynching mob cuts off ears, toes, and fingers, strips off flesh, and distributes portions of the body as souvenirs among the crowd.