Ida B. Wells

Ida Wells-Barnett
Ida Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells, (July 16, 1862March 25, 1931), later known as Ida Wells-Barnett, was an African-American civil rights advocate, and led a strong cause against lynching. Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi. In 1884, she refused to move out of a segregated railroad car in Memphis, Tennessee, and won a lawsuit against the railroad company for forcibly removing her from her seat, although the Supreme Court overturned the decision in 1887. In 1889, she became co-owner and editor of an anti-segregationist newspaper based on Beale Street in Memphis. In 1895, she published A Red Record, which documented her campaign against lynching. She was a founding member of the NAACP in 1909. In 1930, she ran for the Illinois state legislature, one of the first black women ever to run for public office. She died in Chicago, Illinois where a public housing complex was later named in her honor. There is also a high school in her name in San Francisco, CA.

There has been a play/musical about the life of Ida B. Wells called "Constant Star" by Tazewell Thompson. The play uses five actresses to play her as well as some of the other characters involved in her life. Although it is primarily a play, it includes about 20 negro spiritual songs sung by the actressess. The following is a quote from the director/playright Tazewell Thompson himself:

"My first introduction to Ida B. Wells was the PBS documentary on her life. Her story gnawed at me. A woman born in slavery, she would grow to become one of the great pioneer activists of the Civil Rights movement. A precursor of Rosa Parks, she was a suffragette, newspaper editor and publisher, investigative journalist, co-founder of the NAACP, political candidate, mother, wife, and the single most powerful leader in the anti-lynching campaign in America. A dynamic, controversial, termeramental, uncompromising race woman, she broke bread and crossed swords with some of the movers and shakers of her time: Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, President McKinley. By any fair assessment, she was a seminal figure in Post-Reconstruction America.

On her passing in 1931, Ida B. Wells was interred in the Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago. Her formidable contributions to the Civil Rights movement have, until most recently, been under-appreciated. Until now; almost, but not quite, an historical footnote.

This play with song is my attempt to let her story breathe freely on stage - to give it a symphonic expression - to give her extraordinary persona an audience, something she always craved."

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