A relative of Ida B. Wells has written a new book diving deep into the legacy of the trailblazing journalist and activist from a unique, familial perspective.
Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Wells and author of “Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells,” said she sought to highlight her great-grandmother’s work against violent white supremacy and systemic racial injustices to an audience grappling with racial tensions today.
“I think it’s important to introduce my great-grandmother’s life and legacy to a new generation to help them understand the similarities between the past and present,” Duster said. “I tried to tie the work that my great-grandmother did to what is happening today, so hopefully it contextualizes and helps modernize her story.”
Wells was born into slavery in Mississippi during the Civil War. In 1889, she became co-owner of the Memphis Free Press and soon started investigating and publicizing the horrors of lynchings in the South.
A touchstone moment sparking her investigative journalism and activism occurred in 1892, when a white mob murdered her friend Thomas Moss and his two business partners, Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell in Memphis.
“Thomas Moss, in particular, was a really good friend of hers,” Duster said. “So I think sometimes when things are personal then it drives you a little bit more to do something and work on the advocacy to make some kind of changes.”
After numerous death threats and the destruction of her printing presses by white mobs, Wells eventually moved to Chicago, where she continued to fight against segregation and racial inequalities while also becoming a pivotal figure in the women’s suffrage movement.
Wells died in 1931 at the age of 68. In 2020, she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special notation “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”