Happy Birthday Ida B. Wells
This month on We Need Diverse MG (WNDMG), we celebrate the July 16 birthday of Ida B. Wells. The 19th -century journalist, author, and activist would be 160 years old this year.
Test Your Ida Facts
To honor her birthday, I’ve put together a little booklist and a quiz … see if you can guess True or False for each of these statements about Ida B. Wells (answers below):
- She was born into slavery.
- She was an elementary school teacher.
- She started her journalism career by writing for a white newspaper.
- She marched at the back of the procession in the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession.
- She campaigned for anti-lynching laws.
- She married young.
- She visited the White House.
- While riding on a train to work one morning, she was asked to move from the White car to the Black (Jim Crow) car. She did so quietly, vowing to dedicate her news career to fighting Jim Crow laws.
- T: She was born in 1862, before the end of the Civil War emancipated enslaved people.
- T: Her parents died of Yellow Fever when she was only 16. To keep her brothers and sisters from being separated and farmed out to various relatives, she pretended she was an adult and got a job as a teacher.
- F: She started her journalism career writing for a Black newspaper that was part of a social group she participated in, where they wrote and performed speeches.
- F: March organizer Alice Paul asked to her to march in the back, to accommodate the wishes of the Southern women, but she refused. She marched in the middle of the parade along with the white women who had come with her from her home state of Illinois.
- T: She wrote tirelessly about the crisis of lynching, and she used data-driven investigations to bolster her call for anti-lynching laws. Her data clearly supported what the Black community already knew: that the number of lynchings skyrocketed after Reconstruction and that they targeted mostly Black men, but also Black women. She also gave speeches all over the country and in the UK to drum up support for anti-lynching laws, but they were never passed during her lifetime.
- F: She didn’t marry Ferdinand Lee Barnett until she was 33, which was considered old in her time.
- T: She visited President William McKinley at the White House in 1898 to lobby for her anti-lynching law.
- F: She did not quietly leave the white car for the Black car… she protested and refused. Ultimately, the train conductors threw her off the train!
Learn More About Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader, by Michelle Duster (Henry Holt and Co.) January 2022 *NOTE: Michelle Duster is Ida B. Wells’s great-granddaughter.
- Discovering History’s HEROES: Ida B. Wells, Fighter for Justice, by Diane Bailey (Aladdin) August 2019
- Who was Ida B. Wells? By Sarah Fabiny (Penguin Workshop) June 2020
- It’s Her Story, Ida B. Wells (Graphic Novel), by Anastasia Magloire Williams (Sunbird Books) November 2021
5) Indigo and Ida, by Heather Murphy Capps (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner) Launching April 2023
((COVER NOT YET RELEASED))
((Like booklists featuring activists and journalists? Check out this and this post from MUF))
Ida Fought Today’s Battles
Yes, you read that right — the last book on the list is actually my debut! I’m so excited to join the collection of books about this amazing woman.
My book, INDIGO AND IDA, illustrates many of the pivotal moments in Wells’s life you just read about in the above T/F activity. That exploration happens as my main character, Indigo, reads (historical fiction) letters from Ida. Indigo is a 21st-century middle-school journalist, but what she realizes is that many of the battles Ida fought during her lifetime are the same or similar to the ones Indigo herself faces.
Ida knew she would not be able to finish the social justice work she so tirelessly pursued her whole life, but with her body of work, she left a powerful legacy of activism for future generations to pick up and carry to the finish line.
Happy Birthday, Ida, and thank you.