September 3, 2020

Lifting As We Climb: Ida B. Wells,
A Pioneer in the fight for Women’s Equality
If this work can contribute in any way toward providing this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service.” ---Ida B. Wells

Women’s Equality Day celebrates the passing of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920 that provided women the right to vote.

Although it sounds like women have been voting freely for the last 100 years, it was not 1965 when the Voting Rights Act passed and allowed women of color to cast their ballot freely without being subject to discriminatory poll taxes and Jim Crow Laws. The lifting of these restrictions made women of color the heart of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

Ida B. Wells was a journalist - always speaking the hard truths - and one of the leading anti-lynching activists in addition to her work as a leading Black suffragist. She founded the Alpha Suffrage Club in January 1913. Working closely with co-founder and activist Belle Squire, they stood firmly and campaigned for voting rights for women of color in Chicago. Ida B. Wells would not accept that the women’s suffrage movement would cast people of color aside in order to increase political appeal with calculated strategic moves of segregation. Ida B. Wells would not accept living without a voice and a strong presence; she was determined to live by her motto: “One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” 
At the Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913 in Washington, DC, marchers experienced attacks by angry bystanders. White organizers tried to push women of color to the back of the parade. Ida B. Wells, opposed to the request, fought back and refused to march in the segregated unit of the parade. She marched proudly with the white Illinois delegation. She stood proudly and with her head up celebrating her victory against white supremacists within the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

Ida B. Wells taught us a lesson of courage, strength and persistence - we must learn the lessons of our history and we must ensure that we leave no one behind in the fight for equality and justice.

Ida B. Wells’ legacy lives on to remind us in her own words that, no matter what, “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them”.

In February 2019, after a successful movement led by her great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, Congress Parkway in Downtown Chicago received a new name to honor Ida B. Wells.

Ida B. Wells Drive is the first street in downtown Chicago named after a woman of color.
Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ida B. Well’s great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, and Ald. Sophia King pose as the street signs for Ida B. Wells Drive were unveiled in February 2019. (WBEZ/Arionne Nettles)

Please follow the links below to the Untold Stories of Black Women in the Suffrage Movement and a podcast from Saint Louis Public Radio on How Ida B. Wells Paved the Way for Citizen Journalists Today video length 9.10 minutes