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In this video, we'll learn about the life story of journalist, orator, teacher, suffragette, and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Ida B. Wells made her name writing and speaking and working to improve the lives of Black Americans. She wrote for a number of outlets, and covered a wide array of issues.

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Sources and References

Mia Bay, To Tell the Truth Freely: the Life of Ida B. Wells. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.
Paula Giddings, Ida: A Sword Among Lions. New York: Amistad, 2009.


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#crashcourse #BlackHistory #IdaBWells
Hi, I'm Clint Smith, and this is Crash Course Black American History.

Today we’ll be discussing a hero of mine. Somebody who used her writing, research, and unrelenting commitment to become one of the most important anti-lynching advocates in American history.

We are talking about the one and the only Mrs. Ida B Wells-Barnett. Her anti-lynching campaign brought international attention to the omnipresent threat of violence plaguing Black Americans in the South—and in other parts of the United States.

Her career would also lead her to becoming one of the founding members of the National. Association of Colored Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored. People.

Her work was invaluable in the early struggle for Black American’s civil rights, and she helped lay the groundwork for generations of activists and journalists who would come after her. Let’s start the show. INTRO I want to note there will be mentions of physical and sexual violence in this episode.

Wells was born enslaved in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Wells' father, James, was involved with the Freedmen's Aid Society and helped establish a college for newly freed Black Americans in Holly Springs called Shaw University. Renamed Rust College in 1892, this school would join the ranks of a growing number of.

HBCUs (or Historically Black Colleges and Universities) formed during this period. On a personal note, as the child and the grandchild and the nephew and the cousin and the husband of people who all went to HBCUs, I can’t begin to express how important these schools have been to the Black community. Places that, for years, were the only institutions that Black people could count on for higher education.

Given her father's work, Wells grew up around Black folks who were trying to build a better, more just society for her people. But, after losing both of her parents and one of her siblings to yellow fever, she became the primary caregiver to her five brothers and sisters. Wells found herself taking care of her siblings while also working as a teacher, AND attending school at Rust College.

During this time, she discovered her passion for writing. In 1882, Wells moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where her career as a journalist would begin. She became co-owner of a local newspaper, where she wrote passionate editorials and conducted in-depth investigative work to shine a light on the widespread acts of lynchings in the South.

Lynching, or killing by way of mob without a trial, became a common form of retribution in the South as a means of administering vigilante justice absent of due process. These acts of violence took many forms, perhaps most infamously hanging a person from a tree. These acts were designed to inspire fear and were used as an intimidation tactic against.

African Americans to assert social, political and economic control. And unfortunately, Black Americans in the South had to live with the looming threat that such violence could happen to them or their family at any moment. It’s important to remember also that this history wasn’t that long ago.

In my own book, How the Word Is Passed, I describe how my own grandfather, born in 1930. Mississippi, told me a story of how when he was a boy, a Black man in his small town of just 1000 people, was kidnapped by night-riders, hung from a tree, and castrated. And this sort of thing was happening all across the South.

Lynchings could and often did take place, without the victim having been charged with any sort of crime. And even if someone had been charged with a crime, a vigilante mob kidnapping someone in the middle of the night and killing them, is not justice, no matter what the accusation is. As you can imagine, people were scared.

To speak out against lynching would put a target on your back. And what’s remarkable about Ida B. Wells is that she knew this, and did it anyway.

And while Wells was brave, she was also strategic. Wells’ editorials and investigative reporting angered local whites. And while she wanted to make waves, she understood that to be effective, she needed to stay alive, so she published many articles in Black newspapers and periodicals under the moniker "Iola".

Lynching was not the only cause Ida B Wells took a stand against. She also sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company for discrimination. As the story goes, she purchased a first-class train ticket for a ride from Memphis to Woodstock,.

Tennessee. But the train crew ordered her to move to the car reserved for African Americans. But Wells did not leave the first-class car voluntarily.

The conductor, and some passengers, forcibly removed her and then kicked her off the train. She won a $500 settlement in a circuit court case; but, the decision was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1887. Following this train situation, Wells became even more impassioned to combat discrimination against Black Americans in all areas.

For example while working as a journalist, Wells became a teacher at a segregated public school in Memphis, Tennessee. That first-hand experience led her to begin writing about educational inequality, and this time under her own name. As a result, in 1891, after publicly criticizing the lack of resources for Black-only schools in the area, she was fired.

The following year, her efforts as a journalist refocused on the lynching problem in the South after she lost three of her friends. Calvin McDowell, Thomas Moss, and Will Stewart owned a store called The People's Grocery in Memphis. The presence of this moderately successful Black-owned business sparked anger and unrest among the local white community.

Many store owners even complained that these men were taking some of their customers. On March 3, 1892, a group of white men, including a sheriff’s deputy, went to the People’s. Grocery to confront McDowell, Moss, and Stewart.

This led to an altercation, and by the time it was over, some of the white men had been injured. As a result, McDowell, Moss, and Stewart were arrested. And some Memphis newspapers referred to the men’s efforts to defend themselves and their store as an armed rebellion by the Black men in Memphis.

Just a few days later, at 2:30 in the morning, a mob of 75 masked men broke into the jail and kidnapped McDowell, Moss, and Stewart. They were brought to the edge of the town and they were lynched. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Wells launched an extensive investigation on lynching and used her publications to openly denounce the practice.

Her articles led to her newspaper being destroyed by a mob while she was out of town, and, in an act of cruel irony, she was threatened with lynching should she return. She traversed the southern states for two months to gather information on other acts of lynching. And in October of 1892, she published a pamphlet entitled "Southern Horrors," which detailed all of her findings.

Wells stayed in the North and never returned to Memphis. But that did not keep her from writing about the horrors of lynching in the South. Wells also took her research and anti-lynching campaign across the Atlantic, specifically to Great Britain during the 1890s.

She helped establish the British Anti-Lynching Society in 1894. And her work on the trans-Atlantic anti-lynching circuit demonstrates the ways African American women activists internationalized social justice work. This built on the work of earlier abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and William Wells.

Brown who also traveled to England to promote the abolitionist cause. In 1895, Wells published The Red Record, which outlined the horrors of lynching to a northern audience whom Wells did not think was fully aware of everything that was going on in the. South, writing that thousands of Black people had “been killed in cold blood...without the formality of judicial trial and legal execution.” She also used the pamphlet to challeng the "rape myth" that whites used to justify the lynching of African American men.

See, a significant component of the culture of lynching was the idea of protecting white womanhood from Black men who were stereotyped as being oversexulized and always waiting for their chance to sexually attack a white woman. Countless Black men were lynched after being wrongfully accused of raping, assaulting, eyeing, or even speaking to a white woman. Wells' research, however, revealed that many victims of lynchings had not committed any crimes at all; but had rather challenged white supremacy.

Challenging white supremacy could include anything from being a Black person simply leading a successful life as a business owner, to refusing to cross the street when passing a white person. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, more than 4000 Black Americans were lynched in the South alone, between 1877 and 1950. And this is only the numbers that we know, there is every reason to believe that the numbers could be even higher than that.

Wells had completed much of her life's work before marrying in 1895, to an attorney and newspaper editor Ferdinand L. Barnett. The couple would have four children.

Still, even after starting a family, Wells believed the work was not done. In 1896, Wells was among the founding members of the National Association of Colored Women. The founding convention was held in Washington, DC and other founding members included Harriet.

Tubman, Frances EW Harper, and Mary Church Terrell. And I don’t know about y’all but that’s basically like the Avengers. And she kept going.

In 1898, Wells took her anti-lynching campaign to the White House. She led a protest in Washington, D. C., calling for President William McKinley to make reforms.

And she called for President Woodrow Wilson to end discriminatory hiring practices in government jobs. And throughout the remainder of her life, she was incredibly active in the fight for women’s suffrage. A determined woman in every respect, Ida B.

Wells is one of America's greatest heroes. She had the determination and the bravery required to stand up against one of the darkest elements of America's past and in many ways helped lay the groundwork for both the civil rights movement of the mid 20th century and the Black Lives Matter Movement of today. Her life's work was dedicated to stopping the unjust murdering of Black Americans in the South, a practice that, due to the widespread, profoundly entrenched influence of the Klan, was often protected by law enforcement and legal policies.

Wells died of kidney disease on March 25, 1931, at the age of 68, in Chicago, Illinois. Her legacy is a remarkable one. She did so much, for so many.

And used her gifts and determination, to help build a better world. Thanks for watching. I'll see you next time.

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