Ida B. Wells was a trailblazing African American journalist, civil rights activist, and suffragist who courageously fought against racial injustice and gender inequality throughout her life. Born into slavery in 1862, she grew up to become a vocal advocate for the rights of Black people in America, going on to co-found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). One of her earliest and most notable acts of defiance occurred in 1884 when, with first class ticket in hand, she refused to give up her seat in a carriage reserved for white women only. She was dragged from the train. She immediately sued the Chesapeake, Ohio & Southwestern Railroad Company and won a significant legal victory and $500 in damages; this diary entry came three years later, soon after the Tennessee Supreme Court had overturned the decision and ordered her to pay costs.
The Diary Entry
11th April 1887
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court in my behalf, last week. Went to see Judge G. this afternoon and he tells me four of them cast their personal prejudice in the scale of justice and decided in the face of all the evidence to the contrary that the smoking car was a first class coach for colored people as provided for by that statute that calls for separate coaches but first class, for the races. I felt so disappointed, because I had hoped such great things from my suit for my people generally. I have firmly believed all along that the law was on our side and would, when we appealed to it, give us justice. I feel shorn of that belief and utterly discouraged, and just now if it were possible would gather my race in my arms and fly far away with them. O God is there no redress, no peace, no justice in this land for us? Thou hast always fought the battles of the weak and oppressed. Come to my aid at this moment and teach me what to do, for I am sorely, bitterly disappointed. Show us the way, even as Thou led the children of Israel out of bondage into the promised land.
Ida B. Wells was an incredible woman. A good place to begin learning more about her is Wikipedia, which has a fittingly detailed page dedicated to her life. Some of her papers, including a couple of her diaries, can be seen on the website of the DPLA’s Black Women’s Suffrage Collection. In 1995, Wells’ diary was published by Beacon Press, titled, The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells: An Intimate Portrait of the Activist as a Young Woman and edited by Miriam Decosta-Willis. It’s a fantastic book.
Diary entry excerpted from Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells. Beacon Press, 1995. Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through Copyright Clearance Centre.