A Voice for Justice: The Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells

Internationally known journalist, abolitionist, and feminist Ida B. Wells dedicated her life to combating the violence and racism toward African Americans during the post-Reconstruction era, a time when such activism from a woman of color was uncommon and extremely dangerous. She sought justice and equality for women and African-Americans unequivocally, establishing herself as a seminal figure in the struggle for human rights, and is arguably one of the most famous African American women in American history.

A fiercely radical rights warrior, Wells faced much prejudice and discrimination from whites and more moderate African Americans, but she did not sway from her mission. Her work took her from the American Deep South to lecturing around Great Britain, and then finally to Chicago, where she became very important to the city’s political and civic life. Her unwavering character inspired thousands of African Americans to support her campaign against structural racism and racial bigotry throughout her life.

Ida B. Wells challenged segregation seventy-one years before Rosa Parks, and her campaign against violence and for equality laid the groundwork for the revolutionary Civil Rights Movement, yet most of her efforts were for a long time largely unknown due to the fact that she was African American and a woman. This web exhibit seeks to inform viewers and researchers about the epic struggles, achievements, and legacy of one of America’s unsung and often overlooked heroes.

This web exhibit is drawn from the Ida B. Wells Papers, held by the University of Chicago Library. Additional digitized documents and images are attached to the archival finding aid to the papers. The Ida B. Wells collection is open for research in the Special Collections Research Center.