Ida B. Wells
What do you do if you know something that is happening is wrong? Do you speak up, write letters to the editor of your local newspaper, start or join a protest or just wait for things to change? You might even do all of those things or maybe even something else, but the world has changed largely because someone, or groups of people, have acted to do something about the wrongs of society. One such person was Ida B. Wells.
Ida B. Wells was born on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She was the oldest of eight children born to James and Lizzie Wells, who were enslaved and owned by the same person. After the Civil War ended in April 1865, both James and Lizzie became active in the Republican party and in Reconstruction politics. They instilled in their children the importance of education. James, as a member of the Freedmen’s Aid Society, helped to establish Shaw University, now Rust College, as a school for newly freed slaves, and he served on the first Board of Trustees. Ida first attended school there, but dropped out at age 16 to care for her siblings. A Yellow Fever epidemic in 1878, had killed both of her parents and her youngest brother. To support her family, she became a teacher, first in Mississippi and then in Memphis, Tennessee, where she moved with her sisters in 1882, to live with an aunt. She continued her education at Fisk University during the summers.
Two years later, in 1884 Ida was traveling on a train from Memphis to Nashville when she was told to move from a first class car, where her ticket placed her, to a segregated car. She refused and was forcibly removed. She sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad and won a $500 settlement, which was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. As a result, she had to pay court costs of $200.
After the reversal in the court case, she began writing about race and politics using the pen name Iola. She wrote against segregated education in particular and was fired for her views. She was one of the owners as well as a publisher and writer of Memphis Free Speech and Headlight and Free Speech, both black owned newspapers.
Life changed for Ms. Wells in 1892. A friend of hers, Tom Moss, owned a grocery store with two other black men in Memphis. Because there was a white owned grocery store a few blocks away that was losing business to Tom’s store, there were several disputes between the owners of these two businesses. These disputes lead to the shooting of several white people who tried to vandalize their store and caused Mr. Moss and his co-owners to be arrested and jailed. Before they could be put on trial, a lynch mob broke them out of jail and killed them. As a result of this lynching, Ms. Wells began writing articles about her friend and started a crusade against lynching as well as encouraging economic retaliation. She traveled throughout the South for two months gathering information on other lynchings. She also traveled to New York City. During one visit there, her newspaper office in Memphis was broken into and all her equipment was destroyed. She was also warned never to return to Memphis.
In New York City, Ms. Wells continued to write articles for The New York Age, a newspaper run by former slave T. Thomas Fortune. She took her anti-lynching campaign to Great Britain. After moving to Chicago, she wrote and produced an in-depth report on lynching in the United States entitled A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the US 1892 – 1893 – 1894. She uncovered the real reason for lynchings that had nothing to do with the widely accepted “truth” about the cause of lynching – to protect white womanhood. Rather she felt the cause of lynching was the contempt for law as well as racial prejudice.
In Chicago, Ms. Wells continued to write about the inequalities of black people in the United States. She co-wrote a pamphlet against the exclusion of black entrepreneurs in the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. She married lawyer and editor Ferdinand Barnett in 1895, a marriage that produced four children. Now known as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, she continued to write and speak out against injustice and racism against black people. She spoke to President McKinley about lynchings in the US and pushed for legislation to prevent them. She was a co-founder of several black organizations including the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896, the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, and in 1910, the Negro Fellowship League, which established settlement houses to serve African Americans who moved to Chicago from the South.
Besides working to end lynchings and racism, Ms. Wells-Barnett immersed herself into women’s suffrage. She founded the Alpha Suffrage League (ASL) in 1913, an organization made up of African American women who supported women’s right to vote. The ASL existed as a result of Ms. Wells-Barnett’s differences with the larger National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She strongly felt that NAWSA discouraged African American women’s participation and racial issues were not being taken seriously. The ASL, in contrast, was very clear that African Americans as a whole supported the right to vote for everyone.
While Ida B. Wells was not successful in achieving federal anti-lynching legislation, she was very successful as an organizer of black women. She died in Chicago of kidney disease on March 25, 1931.
Her legacy is one of social and political heroism in the struggle against injustice. Her work as a journalist, organizer, educator and fierce advocate of rights for African Americans has given her a lasting place in American history. As recently as May 4, 2020, Ida B. Wells-Barnett received a Pulitzer prize for her work reporting on the crime of lynching in the 1890s, exactly one hundred years after she was ejected from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad car for refusing to move her seat.
VOCABULARY (underlined words in the text)
Reconstruction – the process by which the states that had seceded were reorganized as part of the Union after the Civil War. This took place from 1865 – 1877.
Lynch – to put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.
Crusade – any vigorous, aggressive movement for the defense or advancement of an idea or cause.
Retaliation – an act of returning like action for like action.
Suffrage – the right to vote, especially in a political election.
Legacy – anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.
Primary Materials – Guide to Ida B. Wells Papers 1884 – 1976
Francis Johnson was born on June 16, 1792, in Philadelphia. In 1818, he became the first African American to have a composition published as sheet music. Johnson played several different instruments, often changing based on the circumstances of the concerts he played. Johnson also led a well-known band in the Philadelphia area when very few musicians could sustain themselves as a professional. Johnson’s band, in the beginning, was composed entirely of African Americans and played solely for the black community. The band would be recognized by the prominent white societies in the Philadelphia area and would receive gigs to perform in the high society’s social gatherings. Johnson’s band gained national recognition when it became associated with white militia units and playing concerts at the Summer Resort at Saratoga Springs.
Even while his fame spread along with his band, Johnson continued to teach music to white and black people in his three-story Philadelphia studio. In 1837, Johnson became the first African American bandleader to take a band on tour to Europe. Johnson’s band played for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace, through the musical talent of Johnson, Queen Victoria gave him a silver bugle as a present. From his tour through Europe Johnson would take the latest musical trends to the U.S. Also upon his return into the U.S., he started to integrate white musicians into his band, leading to some the first interracial musical performances in the U.S. His fame would further increase with tours in North America performing in cities in Canada to the U.S.
Life as an African American musician was not easy for Johnson and his band. They often faced discrimination at their performances. Some all-white bands refused to perform where Johnson’s band booked to play. On several occasions, the crowds at his performances believed that Johnson and his band were illiterate, so they could not read their sheet music in front of them. The treatment by the crowd at his performance sometimes was worse. At St. Louis, the city government put out an affidavit for his arrest and eventually kicked him out of town. In Pittsburgh, he was chased by an angry crowd. Luckily, he escaped the angry mob with only minor injuries. Even with this discrimination, Johnson was committed to fostering equality for African Americans. He created compositions such as “The Grave of the Slave”
and the “Recognition March on the Independence of Haiti.”
With his fame as a professional musician, he continued to perform for the black community even after he became hugely popular.
Johnson died on April 6, 1844; his band continued playing for about 20 years after his death.
Composition: the musical work that has been created.
Integrate: bringing groups of people with a different characteristic into equal participation in or membership of a social group or institution.
Illiterate: unable to read or write
Affidavit: an official written statement made under oath before a person with legal authority which can include a judge or public notary.
YouTube video of The Grave of the Slave being played at Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion:
Johnson’s March music:
W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois or better‐known as W.E.B. Du Bois was the author of many studies
and was the best‐known spokesperson for African American rights during the first half of the 20th
century. W.E.B. Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in
1895. Du Bois co‐founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in
1909. One of his well‐known studies, which was the first case study of a black community in the United
States, was conducted in Philadelphia called The Philadelphia Negro.
The Philadelphia Negro
In spring 1896, the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia’s own College Settlement sent for the
rising African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, who at the time, was a professor at Ohio’s Wilberforce
University, to conduct a study of the city’s black community, which many critics held responsible for a
post‐depression (1893‐96) rise in crime and disorder. Du Bois accepted the invitation, taking the lowly
title of “Assistant Instructor,” and began his study in August 1896. The massive report that followed
went far beyond what its employers anticipated or perhaps desired.
The Philadelphia Negro’s subject mainly focused on the central Seventh Ward running north to south
from Spruce to South Street and east‐west from Seventh Street to the Schuylkill River. This site is the
city’s oldest African American community, dating to the colonial era. The Seventh Ward by the 1890s
was home to roughly 9,700 African Americans. The ward’s residents were diverse having wealthy whites
on its western edge,
one of the nation’s densest concentrations of black elites at its center, along Lombard Street (west of
a high amount of the poor of both races on the ward’s eastern front, was the city’s most notorious black
The highlight of The Philadelphia Negro was a pull‐out map showing the location of all black households,
color‐coded based on their social class status. He based his assessments on his findings from his doorto‐
door surveys of black households in the Seventh Ward.
Du Bois categorized residents according to the following groups:
Grade 1 (red): The “Middle Classes” and those above
Grade 2 (green): The Working People, Fair to Comfortable
Grade 3 (blue): The Poor
Grade 4 (black): Criminal Classes
The findings of the study revealed a diverse and accomplished community while also reaffirming the
reality of having poverty, crime, and illiteracy. Addressing this imbalance, Du Bois emphasized the socioeconomic
and historical causes, notably the exclusion of blacks from the city’s leading industrial jobs and
single‐family homes, discrimination, and color prejudice that worsened race relations.
The study demonstrated the structural inequalities of which many whites were largely unaware, in the
process disproved the prevalent arguments that used race theory, evolutionary science, and scriptural
interpretation to justify discrimination.
Ward: an administrative division of a city
Diverse: groups of distinct qualities or characteristic
Social Class: a division of a society based on social and economic status
Community: a group of people living in the same place that share religion, values, customs, or identity.
Socio‐economic: the social standing or class of an individual or group measured through the
combination of education, income and occupation.
Discrimination: unjust treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of
race, age, or sex.
Inequalities: the unfair situation in society where some people have more opportunities, money, etc.
than other people.
This site includes the entire published study:
For further in‐depth examination and explanation of The Philadelphia Negro:
Remote Learning – Emancipation Proclamation
Did you know that the Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in United States history? How is that possible? Why is it one of the most important documents in US history, especially if you never heard of it before? Because it is THE ONLY document that mentions slavery and does something about it. Look it up if you like. Use these resources: https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=34&page=transcript (Emancipation Proclamation)
The following site includes both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, which will be referred to in this lesson.
The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal”, yet there was slavery going on in all 13 colonies in 1776. As a matter of fact, slavery in the US started in 1619, 401 years ago with the first shipment of enslaved Africans to near where Ft. Monroe, Virginia is today. The Constitution never mentions slaves by using that word. Instead, Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution (3rd paragraph, 2nd sentence) uses the term “persons bound to Service for a Term of Years”. This Article also states that in a census, which is done every ten years, those persons bound to service for a term of years are counted as only 3/5 of a person. Importing of slaves wasn’t banned by the Constitution until 1808 (Article 1, Section 9), and the Northwest Territories never allowed slavery. The Northwest Territories included the current states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. A good source of what this exactly looks can be found in the Missouri Compromise map below.
So what happened to change that? We don’t have slavery now. When and how did it end? That’s the story of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
First, you must understand that slavery existed in the North as well as the South. Pennsylvania was the first state to begin to free slaves in 1780. Over time all Northern states abolished slavery. As new states came into the US, slavery and where it was legal became a huge issue. In 1820, it was necessary to come up with a compromise when both Maine and Missouri wanted to become states. Maine (which had been part of Massachusetts) was a free state; Missouri was a slave state. The Missouri Compromise was enacted so that both states could join the US and maintain the balance of power between free and slave states.
From 1820 until 1854, any slave territory that wanted to become a state had to join the US at the same time as a free territory. When Kansas and Nebraska wanted to become states, the Missouri Compromise was overruled by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which stated that slavery above the state of Missouri could be allowed and that the citizens of Kansas and Nebraska could decide for themselves whether slavery would be allowed in their states.
There were other things going on at this time as well. The Supreme Court in the 1857 Dred Scott Decision decreed that black people could not be citizens of the US. It also denied the right of freedom to Dred Scott and his wife Harriet even though they had been taken for a period of time to live in a free state. Also, the Underground Railroad started in the early to mid 1800s with a system of safe houses between the South and Canada that would assist escaping slaves. The Fugitive Slave Law, passed in 1850, gave the power to federal marshals to imprison and/or fine anyone helping escaped slaves.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the US in 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede, or leave, from the US. Civil War began in 1861, at Fort Sumter. By the end of 1861, a total of eleven states in the South chose to secede from the US and form their own country – the Confederate States of America. There were also four border states that practiced slavery and fought for both the Union (the North) and the Confederacy (the South). They were Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri.
Abraham Lincoln wanted to both hold the US together and to end slavery, but he was afraid of losing the Border States to the Confederacy if he freed the slaves outright. He hated slavery and began talking to members of his Cabinet about issuing an emancipation proclamation. The Union was not doing as well in the war as he had hoped, but they had gradually been gathering parts of the southern states under their control. He needed a victory in order to issue a proclamation. That victory came in the Battle of Antietam in Maryland in September 1862. Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation beginning in that same month and made it official on January 1, 1863. While the language is challenging, it is very clear who it freed and who it did not free. Read it by using the link in the first paragraph.
The Civil War ended in April 1865. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom when the Union Army took over Galveston. But were they really free?
On January 31, 1865, over two years since the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the 13th amendment to the US Constitution was passed that freed all slaves. By 1870, the 14th amendment, that granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to everyone born or naturalized in the US, and the 15th amendment, which granted the right to vote to black men regardless of whether or not they had been slaves, had been ratified.
Each word in this list is underlined in the text above and the definitions will be used as clues in the crossword puzzle activity.
Abolish – to do away with or put an end to.
Amendment – a change in the words or meaning of a law or document (such as a constitution).
Cabinet – the group of executives advising a president.
Civil war – a war between political factions or regions within the same country.
Compromise – a way of reaching agreement in which each person or group gives up something that was wanted in order to end an argument or dispute.
Confederacy – the country made up of 11 southern states that had formerly been part of the USA.
Constitution – the system of beliefs and laws by which a country, state, or organization is governed.
Emancipation – the freeing of slaves or any other people.
Naturalize – to allow (someone who was born in another country) to become a new citizen.
Proclamation – a public and official announcement.
Ratify – to confirm by expressing approval; agree.
Secede – to separate from a nation or state and become independent.
Territory – an area of land that belongs to or is controlled by a government.
Before the Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain in 1733, with changes in the textile industry, people had to make their own clothes. Making clothes was a lengthy 4 step process. First, you had to find the material to make thread. Common materials were linen, cotton and wool. Linen and cotton
are plant material; wool comes from sheep that first need to be sheared, the wool fibers combed, washed and spun. Linen comes from flax which would have to be harvested. The fibers inside the bark need to be separated out and spun into thread. Cotton also needs to be harvested and the seeds separated from the cotton boll. Then it can be spun into thread. Once the thread is spun, it needs to woven into cloth on a loom.
In 1733, a new invention called the flying shuttle made weaving cloth much faster. The web site https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyhDkd8Iabs will give you an excellent idea of exactly how much faster weaving became. Imagine how this would have changed you life! Before 1733, it was not common for anyone to have more than 2 or 3 outfits to wear.
The activity below will enable you to make a small mat using a loom that you will make yourself. All materials should be available in your home. Besides ribbon & yarn, you can also strips of material.
Supplies: 6” x 9” piece of cardboard; yarn for warp; ribbon & different color yarn for weft.
Directions for making the loom:
Cut a piece of cardboard 6” x 9”.
Draw a line 1/2” from both ends of the 6” side of the cardboard.
Cut a slit to the line at 1/2” intervals.
Take a 16′ piece of yarn.
Starting on the upper right corner, place yarn in the first slit leaving a 10” tail on the back of the cardboard & stretching the yarn to the 2nd slit on the bottom.
Wind the yarn up & down until you reach the last slit. You should have another 10” tail on the bottom left.
Tie the 2 tails together in the middle. The yarn should be tightly tied.
Take a piece of ribbon or yarn & weave in and out between the threads.
The 2nd row of weaving should be started the opposite way as the 1st row. If you did under/over for the 1st row, do over/under for the 2nd.
Continue weaving under/over, over/under until you get to the bottom of the card.
Your weaving should be tight. After weaving the 2nd row, gently push the yarn down. Do this after adding each row.
Fold down the cardboard on the top & bottom and tape to the back.
Fold ends of yarn to the back & tape in place.
Code Breaking Activity
Background: Imagine how you would communicate to other people from a distance without your phone or the use of a computer. How would you do it?
Ancient societies used smoke signals or drum beats, but what happens if it’s raining or snowing and you have to get a message out? A more recent form of communicating is a semaphore, which uses flags to send your message, but that also is weather dependent and requires you to see the person you are signaling to. Messages were also conveyed by writing them out by hand and sending them to the intended recipient by horseback rider.
During the Industrial Revolution, which started in 1733 and some say is still occurring today, a man named Samuel Morse developed a code that was used for long-distance communication. The Morse Code was transmitted over telegraph wires using electric signals between stations by using sound created by a telegraph machine. The operator uses the telegraph to tap out the symbols for each letter in the message being sent. The recipient of the message then listens to the code being tapped out and writes the message down. In 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message using Morse Code – “What hath God wrought?” – from Washington, DC to Baltimore. In 1866, the first telegraph line was placed across the Atlantic Ocean from the US to Europe.
The Morse Code is a series of dashes and dots using a different pattern for each letter of the alphabet and each number from 0 – 9. Frequently used letters, such as “E”, use a single symbol while a less used letter, such as “Q”, uses a more complex and longer code. Morse Code was in use for at least 160 years and is still occasionally used today. It is credited with changing how wars are fought and how journalists and newspapers did business, making it easier and faster for remote reporters to send their articles to their editors for publication.
Code Breaking Activities
Activity 1: Written Code
Materials: paper, pencil, code
Using the Code supplied here, write a message to someone and have them interpret it. You can even make up your own code. Remember to put a space between each word in your message.
Activity 2: Semaphore
Materials: 4 pieces of wood, material, such as construction paper, card stock, cardboard, to make 4 flags. The material should be something that won’t easily bend. It should also be big enough to see from a distance. Flag colors are usually red and yellow triangles. Flag size is square with red triangle on top and yellow triangle attached to the flag. Flag size should be the size of a folded newspaper, or 11”. The wood should be roughly 15 – 18”.
This will make 2 semaphores, two flags for each person. Semaphore works for communication between 2 people. If you want to share a message with more than 2 people, you will need a set of flags for each person. Your communication will be like Whisper Down the Lane, except with flags.
Once you have your semaphore ready, practice the semaphore alphabet using the 2nd website below. Try sending a message to someone from another room in your house or yard.
Two excellent websites are below: The first one shows how to send a distress signal. The second website shows the semaphore alphabet and gives a good summary of how the semaphore was used.