Day 322 of Colourisation Project – March 25
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862, the daughter of slaves, African-American journalist and suffragist, Ida B. Wells was one of the greatest pioneer activists of the civil rights movement of the 19th and 20th centuries.
A fearless anti-lynching crusader in the United States in the 1890s, her life was one of commitment to the struggle for African-American justice. A seminal figure in Post-Reconstruction America, she was also active in women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement establishing several women’s and civil rights organizations. In 1896, she formed the National Association of Colored Women, and in 1909 co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The passage of anti-lynching legislation became one of the NAACP’s central goals.
She founded the Negro Fellowship League for black men and was also a founding member of the National Afro-American Council, serving as its secretary, and chair of its Anti-Lynching Bureau. Wells even established the first kindergarten for black children.
Wells in a double-barreled fight against discrimination successfully integrated the American suffrage movement, when she refused to walk with the other black women at the rear of a 1913 Washington parade. Instead she marched defiantly alongside the ranks of her white ‘peers’. White supremacy it seems was not a foreign concept to some suffragettes and has largely been whitewashed from the history of the suffrage movement.
A powerful and persuasive orator, Wells lectured widely in Great Britain in an effort to raise support from the U.K. by shaming and sanctioning the racist practices of America, especially that of lynching. Wells battles hard to have anti-lynching legislation enacted but ultimately came to believe that armed resistance was the only defense against lynching.
Extraordinarily, from 1882 to 1968, nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress. Only three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 petitioned Congress to pass a federal law only to be blocked by a hostile Senate each time due to the powerful opposition of the Southern Democratic voting bloc.
It was not till June 13, 2005, in a resolution sponsored by senators, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and George Allen of Virginia, together with 78 others, that the US Senate formally apologized for its failure to enact this and other anti-lynching bills “when action was most needed.”
“There may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility,” Senator Landrieu said before the vote.
After a lifetime crusading for justice, Ida B. Wells died of kidney disease on this day, March 25, 1931, at the age of 69, in Chicago, Illinois.
Today, Wells is remembered as one of America’s most uncompromising leaders and most ardent defenders of democracy. In 2006 Wells’s life was the subject of Constant Star, a widely performed musical bio-drama by African-American director, Tazewell Thompson.
Her legacy of social and political heroism was a major influence in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and it still continues to reverberate today.