Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Project Gutenberg.

White supremacy fueled by the lost cause religion of sore Confederate veterans fueled vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and others, resulting in black men, women and children being attacked, assaulted, lynched and murdered. At times their dead bodies were gruesome figures left in smoldering fires or swinging from trees as public spectacles of open hostilities and warnings to others.  Black men were the primary targets of lynching and were considered justified victims because of their stereotypically large sexual appetites which focused on deflowering white women, thus they were a menace in need of extermination. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a black journalist, investigated the allegations made by the white press and realized that black men were accused of crimes they had not committed. 

On March 9, 1892, three friends of Wells were murdered. At the root of this heinous crime was business competition, where a white grocery store in the area charged the three men with a conspiracy against the white community. The men were taken to jail and were later accused of raping a white woman.  An angry mob broke them out of jail and lynched them.  This investigation led Wells on a crusade to seek justice and truth concerning the victims of lynching. She urged the black community of Memphis to leave in her column in Free Speech and continued to investigate other lynching cases. Her outspokenness forced her to leave Memphis, Tennessee for Chicago, Illinois on May 27, 1892, when the offices of Free Speech were destroyed by a mob.  Wells and other women of this era utilized their minds, resources and fearlessness to openly engage white supremacy in areas of racial stereotypes that sought to exclude black people from American society.

Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune. Library of Congress,

The pursuit for education compelled some women to open schools for others; similar to their foremothers. Women during this time broadened their view to open schools that provided opportunities to empower women and girls to better their station in life.  In 1902 Charlotte Hawkins Brown founded the Palmer Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina.  Brown’s Palmer Institute operated for over 60 years and taught vocational courses to black women students.  Palmer Institute also taught college preparatory courses, as well as, classes in drama, romance languages, art, math and literature.  In 1904 Mary McLeod Bethune established the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School, which became Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona, Florida.  Bethune’s school started with faith in God, $1.50 and five female students.  To supplement the meager tuition payments, Bethune organized bake sales and prepared food drives, selling what she could to augment the school budget.  Local black churches and white benefactors came to the aid of the school. When asked what drove her to establish the school, Bethune credited her faith in God as the impetus that kept her focused. In 1923 Daytona Industrial merged with Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida.  In 1931 the school became affiliated with the United Methodist church, evolved into a junior college and became Bethune-Cookman College.

In 1909 Nannie Helen Burroughs became the founding president of the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, DC.  Burroughs school, initially named the National Trade and Professional School for Women and Girls, Inc., like others was a vocational training school where young women learned human ecology and domestic science.  The Burroughs’ school is now a private elementary school in Washington, DC.


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