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THE RELIGION CORNER: Ida B. Wells — A Black History Tribute

It seems only fitting that we would take the time to honor Ida B. Wells during these perilous times, as African Americans are still seemingly being looked upon as second-class citizens. White supremacy is still rearing its ugly head. We saw a lynching noose, but this time it was for our former vice president, Mike Pence. What a reminder of the days of Ida B. Wells, the founder of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and a founding member of the NAACP.

During the late 1800s, Wells traveled throughout the South, investigating lynchings by using records, eyewitness interviews and testimony from families. As The New York Times’ obituary of Wells noted, “She pioneered reporting techniques that remain central tenets of modern journalism.”

When Wells was 21, five years after her parents and baby brother died from yellow fever, she moved her six other siblings to Memphis. She accepted a job as a schoolteacher in rural Woodstock, Tennessee, but eventually moved into the field of journalism

One day in 1892, her pastor told Ida something that changed the trajectory of her life forever. He said, “Miss Wells, something bad has happened in Memphis.” Her hand shook slightly as she took the Memphis Commercial newspaper. He said, “Last night, a mob of white men dragged three Black men down to the railroad tracks, and shot them to death.”

To her amazement, one killed was Thomas Moss. He begged for his life for the sake of his wife, daughter and unborn child. When he realized he was going to die, he said, “Tell my people to go West, there is no justice for them here.”

Wells said, “It can’t be!” Devastated, she said “Thomas Moss and his wife are my good friends. I’m godmother to their daughter, Maurine!”

She caught the next train back to Memphis but arrived too late to attend Moss’ funeral. Heading straight to comfort his pregnant widow, Betty, and their daughter, Maurine, she was determined to bring comfort to her close friends. Brutal killings of Blacks in the South were on the rise, and they were going unpunished by the law.

“Betty,” Ida said to the tearful widow, “I’ll never forget the talks Thomas and I had when he delivered mail to the Free Speech every day. He believed that we should defend the cause of right and fight wrong wherever we saw it.”

What she found was that oft-repeated accusations of Black men raping white women — accusations for which they were routinely lynched — were almost always false. Disputes usually started over completely unrelated things, as it had with her friend Thomas Moss, who was killed over an altercation that began with children playing marbles. She boldly reported her findings in an editorial in the newspaper that she co-owned and edited, the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight.

That editorial, however, caused a riot in Memphis and she was forced to leave her home to save her life. Her newspaper’s office was destroyed by a group from Memphis, and her partner was also forced to flee the town.

Ida sent a telegram to her lawyer to find out if her partner was safe. Friends sent letters and telegrams back to her that there were orders to kill her on sight.

She moved to Chicago, where she married Ferdinand Barnett, a lawyer and journalist. Ida devoted the rest of her life to investigating, reporting and lecturing worldwide on the growing number of Blacks lynched.

Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email lyndiagrantshowdc@gmail.com or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.

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Lyndia Grant

A seasoned radio talk show host, national newspaper columnist, and major special events manager, Lyndia is a change agent. Those who experience hearing messages by this powerhouse speaker are changed forever!

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