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The Importance of Ida B. Wells: The 19th and 20th Century’s’ Insurgent Truth-Teller

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at New School chapter.

One cannot discuss modernized Western investigative journalism without Ida B. Wells. Wells is recognized and celebrated as an estimable investigative journalist. However, the public did not heed her tenacious endeavors to expose the violent racism of the 19th century. Hierarchical white patriarchal systems created a biased idea of a truth-teller with whom we trust. Establishment media narratives did not recognize Ida B. Wells as a truth-teller due to her position in society as a Black woman. 

Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, during the Civil War. She was raised with an emphasis on education and worked as an educator in the late 1870s. After the lynching of three of her Black friends and the forceful removal of her from a train cabin due to her race, Wells focused her writings on racism in the South. A classic muckraker, Wells traveled around the South investigating the lynching of Black men, primarily instigated by white women’s false rape allegations. She reported her findings in The Memphis Free Press and Headlight, which she co-owned. White readers violently disapproved of her editorial and burned down the newspaper’s headquarters, driving Wells to relocate for protection. Her exposure to violence against her community opposed white biases of the truth. Wells’ position outside the insular idea of a dependable truth-teller made her one of the U.S.’s first insurgent truth-tellers. Resultantly, her work introduced an alternative concept of truth to modern journalism. 

Wells’ work brutally showed audiences the Black experience and expanded narratives in the journalistic field. Although her position in society as a Black woman impeded her ability to be deemed a “truth-teller” by 19th-century white audiences, Ida B. Wells is now recognized as an estimable investigative journalist that expanded the American narrative. 

Today, people celebrate her for her bravery and power. Her revolutionary reporting techniques changed the future of 19th and 20th-century journalism and introduced the Black experience to mainstream media.

Wells went on to share her findings internationally and protested the very system that held her down up until her death. We celebrate her during Black History Month and every month for her endeavors.

Tara is a New York-based Journalist studying at The Eugene Lang College of The New School. She has a passion for unique storytelling and mental health advocacy. Aside from writing, she enjoys singing and spending time with animals. See more of Tara's work on taralamorgese.wixsite.com/website!