Ida B. Wells is one of my favorite women of history in America. For many weeks, on my radio show on Spirit 1340 Radio One in Washington, you can hear me in a Washington Informer radio commercial about the life of Ida B. Wells. Today, for Women’s History Month, I feel privileged to share much more of the life of this dynamic messenger, who came and did what God sent her to do.

Wells is a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). For months, she traveled throughout the South investigating lynching, the subject that annoyed her most. She used eyewitness interviews and testimony from families, and also looked through records.

The New York Times in its sharing a reprint of her obituary for Wells noted, “She pioneered reporting techniques that remain central tenets of modern journalism.” Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize the same day as Ida B. Wells, was an admirer as well. Hannah-Jones, who writes for The New York Times Magazine, won the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary for The 1619 Project on the same day that Ida B. Wells was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize in the Special Citations and Awards category “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.” You must read her extended interview from Chicago’s WTTW, where Hannah-Jones discusses Wells’ writing style, what drove Wells to investigative and data reporting, and her legacy as a journalist.

Wells, who also co-founded the National Association of Colored Women in 1896, found was that the stereotype of Black men being lynched for raping white women was almost always false. Disputes usually started over completely unrelated things, as it had with her friend Thomas Moss, who was killed over a dispute that began with children playing marbles. She boldly reported her findings in an editorial in the The Memphis Free Press and Headlight, a newspaper that she co-owned and edited. That editorial, however, caused a riot in Memphis and she was forced to leave her home to save her life. The office of the newspaper was destroyed.

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. Last night, a mob of white men dragged three Black men down to the railroad tracks and shot them to death.” Her hand shaking slightly as she took the Memphis Commercial Newspaper, she read, to her amazement, that one of the men 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 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, 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 against 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 moved to Chicago, where she married Ferdinand Barnett, a lawyer and journalist. She 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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