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.
She was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi and reared and educated there. She was the oldest of eight children. When her parents died of yellow plague in 1880, she took it upon herself to leave school in order to become a teacher so she could support her five surviving brothers and sister. She taught her first school at the age of fourteen. At various times she was offered positions to teach elsewhere, but she always preferred to teach her people in the south. In 1888, she took a job teaching in Memphis.
It was while working as a schoolteacher in Memphis that she began writing for the city’s black newspaper, The Free Speech and Headlight. Her writings exposed and condemned the inequalities and injustices that were so common in the Jim Crow South...segregation, lack of educational and economic opportunity for African-Americans, and especially the arbitrary violence that white racists used to intimidate and control their black neighbors. And then, when a friend and respected store owner of Ida was lynched in 1892, she used the paper to attack the evils of lynching and encouraged the black townsfolk to head west.
It was her insistence on publicizing the evils of lynching that won her many enemies in the South, and in 1892 she left Memphis for good when an angry mob wrecked the offices of The Free Speech and warned that they would kill her if she ever tried to come back. Ida moved north to Chicago, but continued to write about the racist violence in the former Confederacy, campaigning for federal anti-lynching laws (which were never passed) and organizing on behalf of many civil rights causes, including woman suffrage.
In March 1913, as she was preparing to join the suffrage parade through President Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural celebration, she was asked by organizers to stay away from the procession. It seems that some of the white suffragists refused to march alongside blacks. How hypocritical is that? Although the early suffrage activists had generally supported racial equality, by the beginning of the 20th century, that was rarely the case. In fact, many middle-class caucasians embraced the suffragists’ cause because they believed that the enfranchisement of their women would guarantee white supremacy by neutralizing the black vote. Ida, true to her cause, created a stir and joined the march anyway, refusing to march in the back with the other black delegates. Her experience showed that to many white suffragists, equality did not apply to everyone.
After her retirement, she wrote her autobiography, Crusade for Justice. One of her greatest accomplishments was to successfully block the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago, working with Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House. By 1930 she became disillusioned with what she felt were the the weak candidates from the major parties to the Illinois state legislature and decided to run herself. Thus, she became one of the first black women ever to run for public office in the United States. Within a year she passed away after a lifetime crusading for justice. She died of uremia in Chicago on March 25, 1931, at the age of 68. She had continued to fight for civil rights for all until the day she died.