On the 12th November 2019 the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organisation in the US, celebrates its 110th anniversary. Ironically, its greatest female exponent, Ms Ida B. Wells, and one of the founders of the NAACP, was not listed among the 40 controlling committee members when the organisation was launched on the 12th November 1909. But that didn’t matter to Ida B Wells, who would go on to be one of the most important human rights activist in US history.
Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16th, 1862, during the American Civil War, Ida B Wells (later Ida B Wells – Barnett) would spend her life fighting against racism, sexism, and violence. The eldest of 8 children, Ida was born to James and Lizzie Wells, who became politically active after the war during the Reconstruction era. In 1877, Ida attended Rust College a HBCU in Holly Springs, quickly gaining a reputation as being rebellious. Within a year she had left, as well as experiencing the death of her parents and a younger sibling from Yellow Fever.
It was left for 16-year Ida to take a job as a teacher and later an educator, to keep the family together. In 1884, after she had moved the family to Memphis, Tennessee, and just aged 22, Ida filed a lawsuit against a train car company in Memphis for unfair treatment after being thrown off a first-class train carriage. She won the case, but the ruling was overturned in a federal court. This, and the indiscriminate lynching of African American men, women and children, induced Ida to publish her experiences and findings in a pamphlet.
However, her publishing of an 1892 lynching enraged locals, who burned down her press plant and drove her from Memphis.
Ida eventually ended up in Chicago, Illinois, and within a year embarked on an international tour to expose the horrors of lynching. The first of two UK national lecture tours saw her stay with Mr. A.H. Clothier and his wife at 66 Gough Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham.
Ida’s accounts horrified the British public, and she was asked to return the following year. On her return to Chicago she met and eventually married famed African American lawyer Ferdinand Barnett. Together, the couple had four children. Ida passed away on March 25th, 1931, leaving behind an inspiring legacy of social and political fearlessness.
On 12th February 2019 the Nubian Jak Community Trust erected a Blue Plaque at the Edgbaston Community Centre, Woodview Road, B15 2HU. The location is the exact site of 66 Gough Road where Ida stayed in 1893.
Dan Duster, Great grandson of Ida B Wells, Said: "As the great grandson, and on behalf of the family of Ida B. Wells, I am truly honored that you are paying tribute to my ancestor with the distinguished Blue Plaque. Her travels to the United Kingdom were significant in helping to sharpen her skills to fight for justice and equal rights. It was in the UK that she was able to further expose the international community to the extent, brutal violence, and reasons used for lynchings that were taking place in the US. She established alliances that lasted for decades and learned about community organizing, fundraising, plus creating women's clubs and organizations for social justice."
Yvonne Mosquito Lord Mayor of Birmingham said: "Ida B Wells was undoubtedly one of the greatest female leaders of the 20th Century. Her bravery in tackling racism and fighting for women's suffrage is renowned. We are proud of her historical connection with Edgbaston, Birmingham, and even more so now that she will be permanently memorialised with a Nubian Jak Community Trust Blue Plaque in the City."
Dr Jak Beula, CEO of Nubian Jak Community Trust said: “If Rosa Parks needed a role model, Ida B Wells was taking a similar stance against injustice 70 years earlier. As a writer she was just as important as W.E.B. Dubois, and spent all her life tackling racism and sexism. We are delighted that Ida B Wells - Barnet will be the 42nd recipient of a Nubian Jak Blue Plaque, exactly 110 years to the day the NAACP was founded.”
Dr Hannah-Rose Murray of Nottingham University said: "Ida B. Wells is one of the most celebrated African Americans in history, and rightly so – she was a feminist, activist, author, and a social reformer who revolutionized transatlantic history by shining a light on white domestic terrorism in the United States. It's fantastic that her legacy and her important work in the British Isles is being honoured on this side of the Atlantic."
Pastor Derrick Dunkley, Chair of Edgbaston Community Centre said: “Unveiling a Blue Plaque for Human Rights activist Ms Ida B Wells at Edgbaston Community Centre is a real honour. Her fight for equality and her anti-lynching campaigns which brought her to Edgbaston, are aligned to Birminghams rich heritage of supporting social justice. We are proud that this Blue Plaque will enable the legacy and amazing story of an often forgotten heroine of civil rights to be remembered and told.”
Garry Stewart. Director of Recognize Black History & Culture said: “Edgbaston was a hotbed of activity for campaigners of social injustice, equal rights and anti-slavery. It is only fitting that Ida B Well who campaigned and spoke in Birmingham, as part of British Anti Lynching tour is recognized as part of the Rich Diverse Black heritage of Birmingham.”
The Ida B Wells Tribute was delivered in partnership with Nubian Jak, Nottingham University, Edgbaston Community Centre, Recognize Black Heritage and Culture, and the Anti-Slavery Usable Past.