Ida B. Wells’ name trended on Twitter earlier today (July 16), in recognition of the 156 years since her birth. Individual Twitter users and cultural institutions alike used her birthday as an opportunity to uplift her importance to journalism and the fight against White supremacy.


Per the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Wells was born into enslavement in Mississippi in 1862. She was emancipated six months later. After being raised by parents active in Reconstruction-era politics, Wells attended Fisk University in Tennessee and began a path towards activism. After being forcibly removed from a seat that she wouldn’t give up to a White passenger, she sued a railroad company in 1884. NMAAHC says that she earned a $500 settlement, which she subsequently lost when the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the ruling.

That experience pushed her into writing articles about racial injustice for several newspapers, three of which—the Free Speech, Memphis Free Speech and Headlight—she eventually owned. The lynchings of Black Memphis businessmen Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart prompted her to travel the South and gather information about the prevalence and horror of White supremacist terrorism. She compiled these findings in “Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws in All its Phases.” The exposé enraged White Memphis residents, and she left the city to escape the vitriol. 

She continued to write and speak around the world about racism and its relationship to economic and social exploitation. The National Women’s History Museum notes that she moved to Chicago and helped co-found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She continued crusading against legal segregation, racism in the women’s suffrage movement, educational inequity and lynching until her death in 1931. 

Wells’ name lives on via the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which aims to increase the number of investigative writers and editors of color in news media. Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who co-founded the organization, honored Wells’ birthday by uplifting an initiative to memorialize the late pioneer in Chicago: 


The campaign, partially led by Wells’ great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, seeks funding for a monument to Wells in Chicago. The prospective sculpture, designed by Richard Hunt, would sit near the former site of the Ida B. Wells Homes housing project in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood. 

“Our stories, our realities are very skewed toward the negative, Duster told The Washington Post. “Living my life as a Black woman in this country, the perceptions people have are not based on reality. They’re based on propaganda…. In my own way, I’m trying to add to the positive stories.”