Five years ago, my second-grade girls dressed up like shero Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and reenacted scenes from their books about her life. While some parents complained and a few colleagues wondered why I would teach about this deceased Illinois newspaper icon during Women’s Month, I had a gut feeling about the importance of this Chicago woman and her life lessons.
Well, I was not the only person putting Mrs. Wells-Barnett in the spotlight. The Mattel Toy Company produced the Ida B. Wells Barbie doll in January 2022, and in many major cities, the doll is scarce. Walmart sells the news lady for $35. However, on the internet, the prices vary.
She graces a US Postage Stamp, a street name in Chicago, IL, and several elementary schools across the country. In addition to her newspaper work, she was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909 and a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.
When the Ku Klux Klan burned down her building, where the Memphis Free Speech was published, she traveled Europe, explaining the horrors of slavery and the atrocities that lynching left on families and communities of color. She became a school teacher, having attended Rust College (in Mississippi) at a young age to support her eight siblings. Their parents had died in the yellow fever epidemic, which made a young Ida B. Wells courageous and fearless. These qualities would later be noted when she became a writer and publisher.
When corporate America added her story to the historic and collector’s dolls, Mrs. Wells-Barnett sold out in several stores. But Wells was famous for challenging racist groups by using her pen to record accurate news articles about American lynchings of African American people. Her book, A Red Record, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune, as she chronicled Black lynchings in the Southern states. The original pamphlet, from 1894, can be purchased, from mainstream media.
Mrs. Wells-Barnett married Atty. Fernand Barnett and they had four children together. She died from kidney disease at the age of 68 years old. Her incomplete autobiography was finished by family members.