Pioneering black journalist Ida B. Wells actively reported on lynchings and violence against African-Americans for which she was post-humously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2020. The Mattel toy company recently released the Ida B. Wells Barbie as part of their “Inspiring Women Series”.
WGN News Now spoke to Wells’ great grand-daughter and great-grandson to find out what the honor means to them.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist, activist, and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism, and violence. As a skilled writer, Wells-Barnett also used her skills as a journalist to shed light on the conditions of African Americans throughout the South.
In 1884, Wells-Barnett filed a lawsuit against a train car company in Memphis for unfair treatment. She had been thrown off a first-class train, despite having a ticket. Although she won the case on the local level, the ruling was eventually overturned in federal court. After the lynching of one of her friends, Wells-Barnett turned her attention to white mob violence.
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She became skeptical about the reasons black men were lynched and set out to investigate several cases. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns in local newspapers. Her expose about an 1892 lynching enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis. After a few months, the threats became so bad she was forced to move to Chicago, Illinois.
In 1893, Wells-Barnett, joined other African American leaders in calling for the boycott of the World’s Columbian Exposition. The boycotters accused the exposition committee of locking out African Americans and negatively portraying the black community. In 1895, Wells-Barnett married famed African American lawyer Ferdinand Barnett. Together, the couple had four children. Throughout her career Wells-Barnett, balanced motherhood with her activism.