Speaking of Women's Rights...: Women Making History: Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Women Making History: Ida B. Wells-Barnett

By Sara Ainsworth

This piece is part of a Women's History Month series of profiles and personal reflections—written by Legal Voice staff and volunteers—about women of color who have shaped history... or are on their way to doing so.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, born in 1862, was an activist, teacher, and writer who, despite death threats and the destruction of her self-built newspaper, never stopped demanding an end to racial injustice. She was one of the leading voices in exposing the terrorism that white people inflicted on Black families through lynching, threats, and Jim Crow laws.

At a time when women editors, journalists, and newspaper owners were rare, she was all three. After publishing an exposĂ© of the lynching of her friends, white mobs destroyed her newspaper and threatened her life.  She fled to England, where she continued to campaign against lynching. She gathered extensive evidence of the lynching of Black Southerners, and authored and published a widely-distributed pamphlet, “Southern Horrors.”

After returning to the U.S., she helped organize the National Association of Colored Women, and was one of two women who helped found the NAACP. She died in Chicago in 1931.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett contributed greatly to the future civil rights movement, to the end of Jim Crow laws, and to the movement to end lynching. Yet Black families continue today to experience threats, struggle, and violence—whether state-sanctioned or from individuals. Modern voices that echo Ida B. Wells-Barnett are critical.

Thankfully, the amazing leaders at Forward Together have provided a platform and a place of activism for the modern “Idas.” You can find their brilliant analysis on topics ranging from reproductive justice to the 2016 election to criminalization and public policy at Echoing Ida. Here, Black women writers and leaders in reproductive and racial justice provide insight, analysis, and brilliant writing on issues affecting Black women and LGBTQ people and their communities right now—and they publish that work in media outlets all around the country. As they explain, they are, like their namesake, “truthtellers.”

Women who have made history influence women who will make history, and Ida is surely no exception. I encourage you to read from Echoing Ida's ever-growing body of work, and support the women who are continuing Ida's legacy of justice.


As Advocacy Director for Legal Voice, Sara Ainsworth is committed to reproductive and racial justice, and to honoring and following the leadership of people of color. She is a huge fan of the Idas and jumped at this chance to promote their work.

Photo of Ida B. Wells-Barnett from Wikimedia Commons.