Serving Metropolitan Detroit Since 1944

Does your life have meaning?

Ida B Wells's life means a lot

Have you ever contemplated whether your life has meaning? Do you think that the thing that you do will have a lasting impact on your family, community or the world?

As I have been looking over my life as we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Telegram Newspaper, I often think about those questions. I realized that it isn't something that you think about once and come to an answer, it is something that you continuous ponder.

Some of the life statements of Gina Wilson Steward - educator, activist, newspaper publisher, care giver coincide with a famous African American women – Ida B. Wells. I'm sure as I continue to contemplate my mission for my life, I will find out that I have traits similar to others. But today, I want to share the life of Ida B. Wells with you.

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett was an African-American investigative journalist, educator, and an early leader in the civil rights movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She arguably became the most famous black woman in America, during a life that was centered on combating prejudice and violence, who fought for equality for African Americans, especially women.

Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War. At the age of 16, she lost both her parents and her infant brother in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic. She went to work and kept the rest of the family intact with the help of her grandmother. Wells moved with some of her siblings to Memphis, Tennessee, where she found better pay as a teacher. Soon she co-owned and wrote for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper.

Wells news reporting covered incidents of racial segregation and inequality. In the 1890s, Wells documented lynching in the United States through her indictment called "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases," investigating frequent claims of whites that lynchings were reserved for black criminals only. Wells exposed lynching as a barbaric practice of whites in the South used to intimidate and oppress African Americans who created economic and political competition-and a subsequent threat of loss of power-for whites. A white mob destroyed her newspaper office and presses as her investigative reporting was carried nationally in black-owned newspapers.

Subjected to continued threats, Wells left Memphis for Chicago. She then married and had a family, while continuing her work writing, speaking, and organizing for civil rights and the women's movement for the rest of her life. Wells was outspoken regarding her beliefs as a Black female activist and faced regular public disapproval, including that of leaders with diverging viewpoints from both the civil rights movement and the women's suffrage movement. She was nonetheless active in women's rights and the women's suffrage movement, establishing several notable women's organizations. Wells was a skilled and persuasive speaker and traveled nationally and internationally on lecture tours.

As you see, we have some things in common. I was excited to see that a portion of my life is similar to someone as special as Ida B. Wells Barnett.

Who does your life's work emulate? Have you found someone that lived in the past that you have similar qualities? Or are you setting the path for the next generation? I just firmly believe that your life should be memorable.

Gina Wilson Steward



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