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Historic Ida B. Wells Quotes Battling Racism and Sexism

As an era-defining black female journalist, Ida B. Wells faced racism, sexism, bigotry, and succeeded to tell the tale of it all. Below are dozens of Ida B. Wells quotes from her many reports and books. 

What do you know about Ida B. Wells?

In 1862, Ida B. Wells was born into slavery, being freed by the Emancipation Proclamation just a year after her birth. Wells became more well-known after writing an article for a local newspaper about her highly publicized court case, where she was discriminated against by a white train conductor.

Wells’ most famous work, entitled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases, exposes the truth of America’s horrific history of lynching. Her work challenges racial and gender stereotypes and remained married to the truth, no matter how ugly it was. 

Take a look at this collection of revealing, thought-provoking quotes from Ida B. Wells below. 

Don’t forget to also read these Rosa Parks quotes honoring civil rights.

Ida B. Wells quotes about her life

1. “I came home every Friday afternoon, riding the six miles on the back of a big mule. I spent Saturday and Sunday washing and ironing and cooking for the children and went back to my country school on Sunday afternoon.” – Ida B. Wells

2. “I honestly believe I am the only woman in the United States who ever traveled throughout the country with a nursing baby to make political speeches.” – Ida B. Wells

3. “It is extremely rough to follow through with my goals, but I felt a responsibility to show the world what the African Americans are facing through this rough patch.” – Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells quotes about American society

4. “In fact, for all kinds of offenses – and, for no offenses – from murders to misdemeanors, men and women are put to death without judge or jury; so that, although the political excuse was no longer necessary, the wholesale murder of human beings went on just the same.” – Ida B. Wells

5. “Those who commit the murders write the reports.” – Ida B. Wells

6. “There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice if we only know how to find it.” – Ida B. Wells

7. “The South resented giving the Afro-American his freedom, the ballot box and the Civil Rights Law.” – Ida B. Wells

8. “The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival.” – Ida B. Wells

9. “The alleged menace of universal suffrage having been avoided by the absolute suppression of the negro vote, the spirit of mob murder should have been satisfied and the butchery of negroes should have ceased.” – Ida B. Wells

10. “The government which had made the Negro a citizen found itself unable to protect him. It gave him the right to vote, but denied him the protection which should have maintained that right.” – Ida B. Wells

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11. “The South is brutalized to a degree not realized by its own inhabitants, and the very foundation of government, law and order, are imperiled.” – Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells quotes about race

12. “What becomes a crime deserving capital punishment when the tables are turned is a matter of small moment when the negro woman is the accusing party.” – Ida B. Wells

13. “Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.” – Ida B. Wells

14. “The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes.” – Ida B. Wells

15. “The white man’s victory soon became complete by fraud, violence, intimidation and murder.” – Ida B. Wells

16. “The appeal to the white man’s pocket has ever been more effectual than all the appeals ever made to his conscience.” – Ida B. Wells

17. “The white man’s dollar is his god, and to stop this will be to stop outrages in many localities.” – Ida B. Wells

18. “The Afro-American is not a bestial race.” – Ida B. Wells

19. “During the slave regime, the Southern white man owned the Negro body and soul. It was to his interest to dwarf the soul and preserve the body.” – Ida B. Wells

20. “The doors of churches, hotels, concert halls and reading rooms are alike closed against the Negro as a man, but every place is open to him as a servant.” – Ida B. Wells

21. “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

22. “The mob spirit has grown with the increasing intelligence of the Afro-American.” – Ida B. Wells

23. “There can be no possible belief that these people were inspired by any consuming zeal to vindicate God’s law against miscegenationists of the most practical sort. The woman was a willing partner in the victim’s guilt, and being of the “superior” race must naturally have been more guilty.” – Ida B. Wells

24. “The Afro-American is thus the backbone of the South.” – Ida B. Wells

25. “The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt.” – Ida B. Wells

26. “The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.” – Ida B. Wells

27. “A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home.” – Ida B. Wells

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28. “Virtue knows no color.” – Ida B. Wells

Also check out these Ella Baker quotes on civil rights, activism, and more

Ida B. Wells quotes about lynching

29. “The nineteenth-century lynching mob cuts off ears, toes, and fingers, strips off flesh, and distributes portions of the body as souvenirs among the crowd.” – Ida B. Wells

30. “Then these lynchers went quietly away and the bodies of the woman and three men were taken out and buried with as little ceremony as men would bury hogs.” – Ida B. Wells

31. “The more the Afro-American yields and cringes and begs, the more he has to do so, the more he is insulted, outraged and lynched.” – Ida B. Wells

32. “Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob.” – Ida B. Wells

33. “No nation, savage or civilized, save only the United States of America, has confessed its inability to protect its women save by hanging, shooting, and burning alleged offenders.” – Ida B. Wells

34. “Thus lynch law held sway in the far West until civilization spread into the Territories and the orderly processes of law took its place. The emergency no longer existing, lynching gradually disappeared from the West.” – Ida B. Wells

35. “Lynching is color-line murder.” – Ida B. Wells

36. “Brave men do not gather by thousands to torture and murder a single individual, so gagged and bound he cannot make even feeble resistance or defense.” – Ida B. Wells

37. “Although lynchings have steadily increased in number and barbarity during the last twenty years, there has been no single effort put forth by the many moral and philanthropic forces of the country to put a stop to this wholesale slaughter.” – Ida B. Wells

38. “White men lynch the offending Afro-American, not because he is a despoiler of virtue, but because he succumbs to the smiles of white women.” – Ida B. Wells

39. “There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms.” – Ida B. Wells

40. “I am only a mouthpiece through which to tell the story of lynching and I have told it so often that I know it by heart. I do not have to embellish; it makes its own way.” – Ida B. Wells

41. “Burning and torture here lasts but a little while, but if I die with a lie on my soul, I shall be tortured forever. I am innocent.” – Ida B. Wells

42. “Perhaps the most characteristic feature of this record of lynch law for the year 1893, is the remarkable fact that five human beings were lynched and that the matter was considered of so little importance that the powerful press bureaus of the country did not consider the matter of enough importance to ascertain the causes for which they were hanged.” – Ida B. Wells

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Ida B. Wells quotes about journalism

43. “I had an instinctive feeling that the people who have little or no school training should have something coming into their homes weekly which dealt with their problems in a simple, helpful way… so I wrote in a plain, common-sense way on the things that concerned our people.” – Ida B. Wells

44. “The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.” – Ida B. Wells

45. “If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service.” – Ida B. Wells

46. “I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I said.” – Ida B. Wells

Inspirational Ida B. Wells quotes

47. “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” – Ida B. Wells

48. “One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” – Ida B. Wells

49. “The appetite grows for what it feeds on.” – Ida B. Wells

50. “Treat the world well. It was not given to you by your parents but lent to you by your children.” – Ida B. Wells

51. “If Southern white men are not careful, they will overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.” – Ida B. Wells

52. “Virtue knows no color line, and the chivalry which depends upon complexion of skin and texture of hair can command no honest respect.” – Ida B. Wells

What can you learn from the work of Ida B. Wells?

Ida B. Wells has a dedication to the truth that can be praised infinitely. In a nation where bigotry is attacking her left and right, she doesn’t let fear take her away from revealing the nation’s truths. Wells is a trailblazer, kicking down the doors with enough tenacity to inspire millions of black women to thrive in journalism. 

If you would like to learn more about Ida B. Wells, I would highly suggest reading her autobiography: Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Much of the books Wells wrote herself; her daughter Alfreda edited it. 

Which of these Ida B. Wells quotes and sayings is your favorite? Tell us your thoughts below; we would love to read them!

Nia Simone McLeod
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1 Comment
  1. Sher

    March 31, 2020 at 8:18 PM

    The appetite grows on what it feeds on. The earth was not given to you by your parents, but lent to you by your children. These are great quotes. Truly telling the truth on both.

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