Ida B. Wells-Barnett, journalist and civil rights activist

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NYPL: psnypl_scg_515
Portrait Collection


Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Ida B. Wells was the galvanizing force that propelled Brooklyn’s black women into public activism. Originally from Mississippi, Wells moved to Memphis in the early 1880s and embarked on a career in journalism. In 1889 she became editor and partner of the Free Speech, publishing militant editorials against the practice of lynching that was sweeping the South and praising those blacks who resisted. In 1892, lynching hit close to home when three of Wells’s Memphis friends defended their grocery store agains a white mob that wanted it closed. Afer a police deputy was shot and seriously wounded, the three men were lynched. Wells wrote a series of angry editorials condemning lynching. In response, the local white newspaper called for her lynching, but Wells was already headed north.

After Wells reached New York, T.Thomas Fortune and my grandfather, Jerome B. Peterson, invited her to continue her anti-lynching campaign from the pages of the New York Age. Brooklyn women joined in. Maritcha Lyons and Victoria Earle Matthews rounded up their many friends and acquaintances to host a testimonial dinner for Wells. The dinner was a great success, and, according to Wells, marked the beginning of the club movement among the colored women. It provided the impetus for New York and Brooklyn women to create their club, the Woman’s Loyal Union. Maritcha, Matthews, Sarah Garnet, and Susan McKinney were among the club’s founders.


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“Ida B. Wells-Barnett, journalist and civil rights activist,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018,