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Ida B. Wells-Barnett, photograph by Oscar B. Willis, n.d.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, born enslaved in 1862, became a publisher of the Memphis Free Speech newspaper, which reported on discrimination. When mobs lynched three of her friends and destroyed her press, she began a national antilynching campaign. In A Red Record, the first statistical analysis of lynchings nationwide, she urged readers to petition Congress for an investigation of mob violence.

Photographs and Prints Division, Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, photograph by Oscar B. Willis, n.d.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Antilynching Activism

Incidents of lynching surged in the 1880s as violent mobs brutally murdered persons accused of crimes, disregarding due process of law. Lynching was used against all races, but predominantly against African American males. Muckraker Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a black journalist and civil rights activist, launched a crusade against lynching in the 1890s. In 1900 Representative George Henry White of North Carolina introduced the first antilynching bill in Congress. Similar resolutions followed, but none passed in the Senate. In 2005 the Senate apologized for its failure to outlaw lynching.

In slave times the Negro was kept subservient and submissive by the frequency and severity of the scourging, but, with freedom, a new system of intimidation came into vogue; the Negro was not only whipped and scourged; he was killed.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, A Red Record, ca. 1895