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Say Their Names: Ida B Wells and the Humanizing of Data

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an American investigative journalist, educator and early leader in the civil rights movement. Born July 16, 1862 she dedicated most of her life combating prejudice and violence with the goal of achieving African-American equality. She researched and documented lynching in the United States in an attempt to bring awareness across the country and the world. Using data, she exposed the increasing use of lynching of African American men following the emancipation proclamation. 

In the 1890’s, Wells-Barnett documented lynching in the United States in various articles and two notable pamphlets titled “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its phases” (1892) and “The Red Record” (1895). In these works she exposed lynching as a barbaric practice of White Southerners used to intimidate and oppress African Americans who created economic and political competition. Her theory had been White Southerners feared a loss of power.

Her second pamphlet, The Red Record, had far-reaching influence in the debate about lynching. Wells-Barnett took a deep dive into the staggering rates of lynchings taking place in the United States. The pamphlet was 100 pages in length with 14 of those pages containing statistics related to lynching cases committed from 1892 to 1895. She researched the names of lynching victims using articles written by White correspondents and press bureaus. These stats included the names, date of execution and charges that resulted in lynching. I believe seeing this information in print had a profound effect on the audience. As you read Wells-Barnett’s report, you begin to tie these heinous acts to a person. You also begin to read the accusations that cost someone their life. These lives were taken without due process or a formal trial. Here is a snippet of how she presented the data below:


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