Early Chicago: Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells

(Source: Chicago History Museum)

Journalist and speaker Ida B. Wells was forcibly driven out of Memphis, Tennessee, due to her verbal and written condemnation of lynching. She came to Chicago to encourage blacks to boycott the 1893 Columbian Exhibition and to use the international reach of the fair to present a positive portrayal of African Americans to the world.

Wells felt urgency in her mission. In the year before the Exhibition opened, she lectured across England. The negative opinions she heard about African Americans strengthened her belief that something needed to be done.

While there I was more struck than ever with the necessity of having some literature to correct the prevailing opinions of people abroad about the mental and social capacities of the colored people in the United States. Persons with whom I conversed in England and Scotland were surprised that I was possessed of sufficient intelligence to talk lucidly. "Why," they would say, "I thought all colored persons were ignorant and incapable of education. Is it possible that any of them are capable of being more than menials?" So I was filled with a determination to do something. It shall not be thought, as it is abroad, that the colored people are brutes and that these murderous lynchings are justified.