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The Historical Significance of Ida B. Wells

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Wells, born into slavery in 1862, was a respected journalist who championed racial equality leading efforts to illuminate and eradicate the lynching of black men in the South. Wells, a spokesperson for civil rights long before the Civil Rights Movement, contested segregation laws more than half a century prior to Rosa Parks’ famous bus incident. Because she was a black female, much of her words were either left undocumented or were suppressed by the white media establishment. However, her efforts to communicate were so intense and broad-ranging that enough evidence remains of her militant, unabashed actions.

Wells was a fearless heroine who championed civil liberties at a time when the majority of the country was fighting against her. Wells’ parents, Jim and Elizabeth Wells, instilled in her a positive, goal-oriented attitude and an interest in politics. After his emancipation, her father became a member of a political organization dedicated to black causes, the Loyal League, where he openly campaigned for black politicians (Sterling, 1988, p. Wells’ passionate interests regarding racial injustices were a strong influence on his daughter as was her mother’ s devotion to religion and a staunch work ethic.

Both parents also stressed the value of education. More than 90 percent of emancipated black people were illiterate following the Civil War years. The freeing of the slaves allowed for the education of blacks. Shaw University was opened in Wells’ hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1866. She, all of her siblings and her mother attended. According to her autobiography, Wells said of attending Shaw, “ our job was to go to school and learn all we could” (Duster, 1970, p. Throughout her years at Shaw, Wells was dismayed by the fact that the college contained no books either written by or pertaining to blacks.

This, along with her parents’ influences, would be a driving force in her life. Wells took a teaching job at age 16 after her parents and a sibling died from Yellow Fever in 1878 (Sterling, 1988, p. She had altered her appearance to look older. Had she not gained employment, her family would have been forced apart.

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