Black History Month: Ida B. Wells Would Have Nothing to Do With Progressives or Progressive Nonsense

"Ida B. Wells in Later Life" (Credit: Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)
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Two years ago, I wrote a RedState VIP about Black History Month, and one of my personal heroes, Ida B. Wells:


Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard historian who along with minister Jesse E. Moorland helped to spearhead a great and necessary discussion on the contributions of Blacks to the American fabric and way of life. What I lament is that that discussion fails to move beyond February unless there is something destructive happening in Black communities or when Democrats and the Left want to christen their chosen symbol of woke Blackness. Promoting a Kamala Harris, while ignoring a Condoleeza Rice. It’s a ridiculous game which diminishes us all.

Something that I also lament is how many of my Black History heroes have been co-opted by the Left. Look at what Democrats and the Left have done to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of the garbage you read has whole cloth removed his conservative focus or his dependence on God to help him spearhead and lead the Civil Rights movement.

The same with one of my personal heroes, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. For years Wells never received the prominence she deserves. Now that she is, it’s focus is cloaked in the language of the Left. Her great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster (pictured), recently released her novel: Ida B. The Queen, which dovetails Ida B. Wells’s story into what is happening in modern-day America.

I have not yet read the book, but I have no doubt it will lean toward social justice and Woke politics. Sadly, this is the hallmark of our time, and that is what is selling like hotcakes. This is the nature of what is happening with many of the giants of Black History—co-option by the Left. Rather than Wells’s powerful life being the center, her story is the latest prop for activism and feminism.

Once again, I give credit to The Guardian for recognizing this unsung hero of Black History, and doing as well as they could not to insert their Leftist ideology into the telling. In their spotlight of Ida B. Wells and her legacy, tragically the only person they seemed to find to interview is the history revisionist and investigative journalist (so-called), Nikole Hannah-Jones. You remember her, don’t you? One of the authors of the much-debunked “1619 Project.” Hannah-Jones has also co-opted Wells’ name and legacy (her Twitter handle is “Ida Bae Wells”). She has even created a foundation in Ida B. Wells’ name which is nothing but an indoctrination center for the Left’s pet social justice issues. Once again, this shows how Leftist narratives that have nothing to do with Wells’ actual life and legacy are being seeded into the public imagination.


“I consider her my spiritual grandmother,” says Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative journalist covering civil rights. “She was a trailblazer in every way … as a feminist, as a suffragist, as an investigative reporter, as a civil rights leader. She was just an all-around badass.”

Yes, Ida B. Wells was a trailblazer and a badass on all counts. Nikole Hannah-Jones is definitely not. She’s a fraud as many of us have pointed out in these pages, and as I spotlighted here. If Ida B. Wells were still alive (that would be a feat, she would be 160 years old!) I believe she would have zero acknowledgment for that one. In fact, Wells would be lumped among the Black conservatives that Hannah-Jones claims to despise. There is an incredible intellect, a beauty, and a fierceness in Ida B. Wells that is neither manufactured nor affected. Wells was the real deal, and her unvarnished legacy is an example that all children should aspire to.

“Ida B. Wells Detailed Portrait from 1893 Book” (Credit: Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)


Personally, I am determined to not allow a dishonest mouthpiece like Nikole Hannah-Jones to co-opt Ida B. Wells’ legacy and translate it for her progressive and elitist crowd. Here’s why conservatives need to embrace and celebrate the life of Ida B. Wells during Black History Month — and the other 11 months of the year.

Ida B. Wells was born into Slavery, but she didn’t remain one.

Wells was born July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Five months later, on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing her parents, Elizabeth and James Wells from slavery. The Wells’ former master was a skilled carpenter who taught James Wells the trade. It is reported that Elizabeth was also a premiere cook. Because of their own education and advanced trade skills, they were able to support their growing family in the Reconstruction era, where many freed Blacks struggled.

According to a Washington Post profile on Wells,

Her mother, Elizabeth Wells, who had been sold from a plantation in Virginia to one farther south, taught her about maintaining dignity in the face of dehumanizing racial oppression. Her father, James Wells, was the son of a carpenter who was a slave owner. He was often described as a “race man,” advocating for the rights of newly freed black people and working with the Republican Party during Reconstruction.


Wells was the eldest of James and Elizabeth’s eight children. Her parents instilled in her and her siblings that education was the key to upward mobility, so Wells excelled in that, going on to attend Rust College, a historically Black college in Holly Springs.

Ida B. Wells raised her brothers and sisters at the age of 16.

In 1878, Wells’ parents and one of her siblings were the victims of a yellow fever epidemic and died soon after. The family did not go on welfare or assistance (whatever that may have been at that time). Wells instead found work as a teacher to support her remaining siblings and with the help of her grandmother, continued to raise and care for them. The family ultimately moved to Memphis, Tennessee when Wells acquired another teaching job in Woodstock, which was just a train ride away. During the summers, Wells continued her own education at Fisk University.

Ida B. Wells was an activist for real life and death issues, unlike the manufactured ones of our day.

Here is where Wells’ first major clash with actual systemic racism occurred. It was 1884, and Wells was 21. She had purchased a first-class train ticket on Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to get from Memphis to Woodstock for her teaching job. Wells was told to give up her seat for a white passenger, and to move to the Jim Crow car (which was also the smoking car—go figure). Wells refused.

Despite the 1875 Civil Rights Act banning discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or color, in theaters, hotels, transports, and other public accommodations, several railroad companies defied this congressional mandate and racially segregated its passengers. It is important to realize that her defiant act was before Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the fallacious doctrine of “separate but equal,” which constitutionalized racial segregation. Wells wrote in her autobiography:

I refused, saying that the forward car [closest to the locomotive] was a smoker, and as I was in the ladies’ car, I proposed to stay. . . [The conductor] tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand. I had braced my feet against the seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn’t try it again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him and of course they succeeded in dragging me out.


Wells was unceremoniously thrown off the train. As any smart, well-educated person would do, Wells chose lawfare. She sued the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company and won the case.  One headline read, “Darky damsel gets damages.” Sounds just like the legacy media. The decision was later reversed, but the fact that as a Black female Wells chose to fight, rather than lie down, is historic and unprecedented.

Wells made her investigative bones with her research, writing, and documentation of lynching in the South between 1864 and 1894. Called The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, Wells compiled newspaper clippings, court cases, and eyewitness accounts of a pattern of race-targeted lynchings in the United States. Mind you, this is the late 1800s. There was no internet. There was no air travel. There were no telephones in every location and household. Wells did all this with her determination, grit, and fire in the belly that the evils of targeting Blacks for lynching needed to be exposed and destroyed. She wanted secured freedoms, protections, truth, and justice for her people. Wells was not interested in indoctrination or embedding a narrative that suited one agenda at the expense of all else.

Ida B. Wells was an entrepreneur at 25. She believed in women making their own way in the world.

Wells became the co-owner and editor of the local Memphis Black newspaper: Free Speech and Headlight. The People’s Grocery Lynching is what activated her. Her friends Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart owned the successful grocery business, and had taken away customers from the competing white stores. The white business owners resented this, so they manufactured a race issue and went to attack the People’s Grocery owners. Moss, McDowell, and Stewart were gun owners and rightly defended themselves. Instead, the store owners were arrested, then a lynch mob broke into the jail, dragged them outside of town, and lynched Moss, McDonald, and Stewart. The People’s Grocery was burned to the ground.

Wells used her paper to speak out against this atrocity:

The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms. The white mob could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order is rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes. There is therefore only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.


After this, Wells spent months traveling alone in the South, armed with her Winchester Rifle, and did her research for The Red Record. While Wells was traveling, the Klan burned her business, destroyed her printing presses, and threatened to lynch her. Wells moved to New York, then Chicago, but continued her activist and advocacy work. Wells ultimately made Chicago her home (another personal connection for me) and fought for women’s suffrage and desegregation of schools.

Ida B. Wells was a destroyer of narratives and would not hesitate to decimate our modern-day ones.

Ida B. Wells lived everything that second and third-wave feminists claim to crow about, but she did it while still embracing being a woman, marriage, and motherhood.

1.­ She Believed in Marriage and Family.

In 1895, Wells married fellow writer and editor F.L. Barnett, who was also an attorney. No doubt, he was a handy person to have on hand for her investigative work. She wrote in her autobiography:

“I was married in the city of Chicago to Attorney F. L. Barnett, and retired to what I thought was the privacy of a home.”

Of course, we know this did not happen. Wells managed to pack in all her writing, activism, and public speaking in between having four beautiful children.

“Ida B. Wells and Her Children” (Credit: unattributed, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
2. She was too radical for the NAACP, the organization she helped to found. 

In 1906, Wells joined with W.E.B. DuBois and others to further the Niagara Movement, and she was one of two Black females to sign “the call” to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Wells saw this come about in 1909 when the NAACP was officially formed. However, Wells spoke out against Booker T. Washington and his strategy of using trade skills to improve the fate of the Negro and encourage integration. This view was too radical for the NAACP and they pretty much kicked her out of the organization. They kicked her out. Can you believe that? That alone is why I am sure Wells would not align with the narratives painted by the selected Black organizations of today nor would she be lockstep with the Black Democrat voting bloc.

3. She was a supporter of 2A and gun rights—especially for Blacks.

Wells recognized that these supposed “Black Codes” (the gun control laws in the Jim Crow South) were to restrict Blacks from owning firearms and protecting themselves from the Ku Klux Klan. Sadly, not much has changed today. All the gun restrictions attack the protection and purchasing power of minorities and people of low income. One Supreme Court case that helped to codify our right to bear arms was brought by a Black man. Otis McDonald in McDonald v. the City of Chicago. Wells would have not only been at the forefront of this case, but she would have cheered the decision.

Wells said,

“A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

4. Like many of us, Wells was disappointed in the Republican Party, but she would never be a Democrat and remained fiercely conservative throughout her life.

In 1930, Wells had had enough of the major parties. So she decided to become a part of the solution and ran as an independent for the Illinois State legislature. Wells became the first Black woman to run for public office in the United States. I never hear this mentioned by anyone who claims they care about Blacks in politics.

Wells did not win that race, but she continued to support conservatives and conservative-leaning candidates throughout her life. And she firmly stated that she would never become a Democrat.

“I am not a Democrat,” Wells wrote, “because the Democrats considered me a chattel and possibly might have always so considered me, because their record from the beginning has been inimical to my interests. I am not a Republican, because, after they — as a party measure and an inevitable result of the war — had ‘given the Negro his freedom’ and the ballot box following, all through their reign — while advocating the doctrine of the Federal Government’s right to protecting her citizens — they suffered the crimes against the Negro, that have made the South notorious, to go unpunished and almost unnoticed and turned them over to the tender mercies of the South.”

She goes on to say “it is not in favor, nor against the interest of either party that I write this. Let a man be Democrat, Republican or Independent as his judgment dictates, if he is obeying honest and intelligent convictions.”


Honest and intelligent convictions are what is needed in our world today. So thankful for the example of Ida B. Wells who embodied them. She deserves all the recognition for all the right reasons.


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