Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells Barnett, in a photograph by Mary Garrity from c. 1893 (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. — Matthew 5:21

Honored on May 6 — my birthday — 89 years after her death, journalist and activist Ida B. Wells received a Pulitzer Prize, awarded posthumously. It is truly a pleasure to know that Ida B. has been properly recognized. Though President Trump continued to attack our top-of-the-line African American journalists, decrying them as angry and unladylike, there is justice in this honor.

Wells had the ability to navigate personal attacks to generate meaningful political change, which is why she deserved the Pulitzer Prize, and why the women who have followed in her footsteps make Trump so uneasy.

Wells, a young journalist from Memphis, Tennessee, publisher of a new newspaper titled Free Speech, owned as a co-partner, with J.L. Fleming, traveled up and down the Mississippi Valley seeking new subscribers to grow her Memphis newspaper readership to more than double.

One day, 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.”

A devastated Wells, who was good friends of Moss and his wife and godmother to their daughter, caught the next train back to Memphis.

Ida arrived in Memphis too late to attend Moss’ funeral. Heading straight to comfort his pregnant widow Betty and their daughter, Maurine, she was determined to bring comfort. 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.”

Her newspaper business was threatened and destroyed by a group from Memphis, which destroyed all the equipment and ran her partner out of town.

Wells sent a telegram to her lawyer to find out if her partner was safe. Friends sent letters and telegrams back to her. They had 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 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,, email or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.

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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