"As long as we permit ourselves to be trampled upon, so long we will have to endure it" (Ida Wells-Barnett, 1892). These words have kept the hearts of the African-American people truly inspired throughout the long years of their quest for freedom. As most of the biographers said about her, Ida Wells-Barnett was known as a fearless anti-lynching crusader. Her life as a young woman was shaped by the harshness of having a black skin in trying to fit in the land of the whites. As woman, she went beyond enduring the burden of raising her younger siblings while keeping her heart and mind in the fight against racial discrimination.
Ida was born to a carpenter, Jim Wells and the “finest cook in the South”, Elizabeth Warrenton (C. Myrick-Harris, et. al). Ida was literally born of a family of slaves. Jim was the son of a slave Peggy and his white master who was given the opportunity to learn carpentry. Jim however later lost his job for defending his right as he refused to cast a vote for a Democratic candidate. Lizzie, according to Myrick-Harris, was said to have been “constantly beaten” by her masters but was kept alive for her fine cuisine.
So when the eldest of the eight siblings was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862, Ida opened her eyes in the world of injustice (W. Hendricks, et. al). Based on Ida’s family background, readers will likely look at her life as a common story of heroes and successful people who, from dust and crumbles rose to fame for diligence and a pinch of luck. But Well’s life story, although does have the same twist of events had a unique flavor which distinguished her from the other history icons.
There are several details in Ida’s life that will tell us how she had lived a commendable young life. First, she lost her parents and a younger brother when a Yellow Fever epidemic swept the town (L. Baker). It is necessary for us to reiterate that Ida was the eldest of the eight siblings which means that she was left the responsibility of raising the other six siblings. Further, Ida was then only fourteen years old, young enough to enjoy the privilege of a teenage life but she was not able to do so.
She did have the choice of leaving her brothers and sisters to her aunt and made the choice of continuing her studies but she was responsible enough to drop school and secure a teaching job (C. Lavender). There are biographers that say that Ida literally made herself look older in order for her to get the teaching job (J. Gamez-Prince). The Wells were kept together and raised by Ida through her $25 monthly pay as a country school teacher (Myrick-Harris). Ida probably had this innate strong fighting spirit in her. While teaching, Wells pursued her studies at Rust College.
Later, she moved to Memphis to teach at Frisk University where she also attended summer classes. One writer noted that Ida’s father during his time was an active leader of an African-American community in Mississippi who like Ida was fighting for the rights of the Negros of fair treatment (Giddings). This might have been the reason why Jim chose to lose his job than to vote for a Democratic ticket said to be dominated by whites. Going back to Ida’s school life, biographers said she was actually expelled from her school when she had a hot argument with the school president.
There were no details given as to what matter the argument was all about but there is one thing that that can be drawn from that event: Ida Wells did not let anyone put her down for the reason of her color. Her passion for justice kept her strong and out-spoken even to the extent of losing her job. Her dream of becoming a journalist was realized after finishing school at Fisk University in addition to her elocution and drama courses. Being a journalist, she wrote several articles editorials about the injustices and discrimination that the Black people have long been enduring in the hands of the whites.
It is for this reason that Wells was barred from teaching at Fisk University by not renewing her teaching contract. However, there are conflicting details of the reason why Ida left her teaching career. There are historians who said that Wells left teaching because she was banned from practicing the profession after writing several articles relative to the Whites’ unjust treatment of the Blacks (Lavender). On the other hand, there are biographers who said the Wells’ successful writing career with the Memphis Free Speech enabled her to left her teaching profession.