Catherine Chimley – Different Women, Distinct Voices: Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells were Black political activists in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. Although there is a temptation in historical analysis to equate their respective actions and views due to their similar roles as Black women, Terrell and Wells had distinct ideals and tactics based upon their backgrounds and viewpoints. Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to the first Black millionaire in the South. Her parents, both formerly enslaved, built and owned successful small businesses, providing Terrell and her siblings with advantages unavailable to most African Americans during the era. Terrell attended Oberlin College, following the “Gentleman’s Path” of four years of courses rather than the abbreviated course load designated for women. She obtained a master’s degree from Oberlin and became a professor of language at Wilberforce University. She married a lawyer who became the first Black municipal court judge and continued her role in activism following her marriage, encouraged by fellow activist Frederick Douglass. Terrell had connections with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and worked with religious organizations on educational reform and charitable institutions created by African American people for those in need. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) was developed in response to discrimination from the Methodist Church, which required Black members to sit in a separate gallery and did not allow Black priests to minister to white congregations. Using the Methodist tenets of respect for others, Terrell advocated for the rights of African American people and women, as well as an end to racially-motivated violence and discrimination. Terrell was a charter member of the NAACP and an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, working closely with Susan B. Anthony. Terrell also became the first Black member of the American Association of University Women. Her activism was tied with her ability to “pass” for white due to her mixed ancestry, and she utilized this characteristic to connect and transcend Black and white feminist groups.

         Ida B. Wells was an activist, journalist, and researcher who was born into slavery in Mississippi. Her parents became politically active during the Reconstruction Era, and she was able to attend Rust College for a period of time prior to her expulsion due to rebellious behavior and a confrontation with the college president. While visiting her grandmother, Wells received the news that a yellow fever epidemic had killed her parents and infant brother. Although family and friends felt that Wells’s remaining siblings should be divided between a variety of foster homes, then-sixteen year old Wells insisted that the children remain together as a family. Wells took a job as a teacher to support her siblings, moving to Memphis, TN in order to receive higher pay. Wells continued to teach in Memphis until she was fired by the Memphis School Board for an article written on insufficiencies of Black schools in the region. Memphis impacted her activism after a friend was lynched in 1892 and her expose on the horrors of racially-motivated terrorism prompted death threats that forced her to leave Memphis for Chicago. Wells worked with a variety of organizations as an activist, but was frequently considered a “perennial outsider” due to her refusal to compromise her beliefs. Wells was often ridiculed and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations, specifically due to her dispute with Frances Willard of the majority-white Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Wells decried Willard’s rhetoric surrounding Black people and her description of Black communities as “the colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt..the grog shop is the center of its power.” Despite controversy with Christian organizations, Wells often connected her arguments with Christian parables against violence and the importance of respect for others.

Unit 4, Assignment 1 – Emily Ezell

Both Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells experienced lives influenced by blatant racial discrimination. Terrell’s parents raised her and her siblings in a financially stable household. As a member of the upper-middle class, Terrell used her position to fight racial discrimination. She focused on racial uplift, believing that racial discrimination could end with the social advancement of blacks through education, work, and activism. Although she joined Ida B. Wells in her anti-lynching campaigns, Terrell’s efforts towards civil-rights focused more on social disparities rather than violence. Unlike Terrell, Well’s found violence a more pressing example of racial discrimination. As a journalist, activist, and researcher, Wells documented incidents of white mob violence and lynchings across the United States. Despite the two women’s different expressions towards violence, they shared similar religious backgrounds and beliefs. Both Terrell and Wills grew up with similar religious upbringings. Later in life, Terrell taught at a university founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which influenced her approach towards social activism. The Methodist Church emphasizes charity and works of mercy. Its members follow Christ’s command to spread the good news and serve all people. Specifically, African Methodism advocates for the civil and human rights of African Americans. Members of the African Methodist Church fight for equality through the social improvement, religious autonomy, and political engagement of African Americans. Similar to Terrell’s experience with the intersection of religion and civil rights, Wells wrote for a black church’s weekly newspaper. Wells served as the editor and co-owner of The Free Speech Headlight, a black-owned newspaper based at the Beale Street Baptist Church in Memphis. The religious beliefs of the church, along with her religious upbringing, led Wells to base many of her arguments on racial equality on religion. In summary, Terrell and Wells both fought racial discrimination and advocated for women’s suffrage through a religious lens inspired by their upbringings and work surrounding the church.

Andrew Denny – Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells grew up as a free Black in the American South after the Emancipation Proclamation. She was baptized in a Methodist Episcopal Church. Wells focused on fighting the concept of lynching as punishment for blacks in the South after her friend and his two business associates were lynched. Wells worked to discredit the commonly held myth that lynching was an appropriate punishment for blacks who broke the law. Wells fervidly held that the root of violence and lynchings against blacks was social and economic suppression. She felt that this violence towards blacks was not a response to their criminal activity, rather it was utilized to get rid of prosperous blacks who were acquiring wealth and property. In this way, she attacked the very root of lynching and violence in the South. Lynching was a way to discourage and prevent the advancement of black society. Even activist, Frederick Douglas, thanked her for exposing this aspect of lynching. He, before the work of Wells, also believed that lynching was just in response to black criminal activity. Wells believed that the only solution to lynching was the end of the white’s belief in white supremacy over blacks. As long as white supremacy stood as a doctrine, whites would continue to use violence to hold blacks down.

Wells also worked to increase women’s suffrage and increase black women’s participation in politics. She attended the first National Women’s suffrage march along with 60 other black women. They were advised to walk in the back to not offend southern delegates. Wells’ response was, ” Either I go with you or not at all. I am not taking this stand because I personally wish for recognition. I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race”. She worked to increase black women’s voice within the National Women’s Suffrage Movement. She, however, worked to get the right to vote for all women. Even helping to register women of all color and encourage them to become more involved in politics.

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell grew up from a wealthy background. Her father was one of the first black millionaires which allowed her to attend Oberlin University. After moving with her husband to Washington D.C she turned her focus towards issues of racial and women’s inequality. She along with Frederick Douglas worked to fight violence and lynching of blacks in the south. She believed violence against blacks stemmed because whites in the south didn’t see blacks as people only uneducated heathens. In this way, lynching was considered an adequate punishment. Church Terrell worked within a movement she called “Racial Uplift”.  She defined this movement as the belief that blacks would help end racial discrimination by advancing themselves and other members of the race through education, work, and community activism. The main correlation between Terrell and Wells is their agreement of the power white women held over black males in the south. Their accusation essentially sentenced the accused black male to death. Terrell, as opposed to Wells, focused more on the systematic oppression of blacks. This process denied jobs and opportunities in society to people of color. Terrell believed that lynching could not be stopped until, “masses of ignorant white people are educated to a higher moral plane.”

              Terrell also dedicated a lot of her work to the advancement of women. She formed the NACW, National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and served as the president until 1901. She believed that the advancement of black women was crucial to the advancement of the whole race.


Unit 4 Assignment 1 Peter Rock

Mary Church Terrell was a women’s civil rights and suffrage activist. She became an activist following the lynching of a friend of hers in 1892. Terrell focused her work on achieving suffrage for black women. Terrell placed an emphasis on the difficulty of being not only a person of color, but a woman of color. Terrell was a founder and became the first president of the NACW (National Association of Colored Women). Terrell believed that universal suffrage would be a huge achievement for women of color. Following the passing of the 19th amendment, Terrell broadened her activism to encompass all civil rights issues. Terrell sometimes joined Ida B. Wells in anti lynching campaigns.

Ida B. Wells was a civil rights activist who worked to eradicate lynching. Wells was a founder of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Wells, like Terrell, placed an emphasis on improving treatment of women of color. Wells focused much of her activism on reporting on lynching. Wells was often shunned by women’s suffrage organizations due to her journalism and anti-lynching activism.

Wells especially used statistics and data to prove that black men were being lynched as a response to alleged crimes they had committed. Wells worked hard to report on this issue and show that lynching was being used to reinforce and continue a system of white supremacy. Both Wells and Terrell worked hard to increase suffrage and ensure that information about racism was represented accurately. Through these avenues, both hoped that violence against people of color would diminish.

unit 4, assignment 1. 11/17

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) and Ida B Wells (1862-1931) both opposed violence towards black people in America at great personal risk. Mary Church Terrell explored and fought to change the system of oppression that is America. She was a champion of civil rights and universal suffrage in particular. Ida B Wells focused on a more specific and brutal form of oppression; lynching. She made note of the power of lynching not only as a punishment to the individual, but also its role as a threat, or display of supremacy to the people. Although they focused on different styles of oppression, their works go hand in hand because of the parallels between them. For example, Terrell and Wells were both devout Christians; they bolstered and justified themselves with this strong faith to fight for justice for the most oppressed group in American history. Additionally, they both focused on women, but in very different ways. For Terrell, women were black; she talked about the extreme prejudice that black women face in their daily wives. Wells talked about women differently; she explored the power of the white woman, especially as it related to lynching black men.

Unit 4 Assignment 1 Harrison Diggs

Mary Church Terrell was the daughter of former slaves who became one of the first African-American millionaires in America. She grew up in a religious, conservative family that valued the importance of education. Terrell was able to attend Oberlin College, one of the few integrated colleges in the United States at the time. Terrell’s activism began after her friend Thomas Moss, was lynched by whites who owned a competing business. Her activism focused around the idea of racial uplift, the idea that “blacks would help end racial discrimination by advancing themselves and other members of the race through education, work, and community activism”. Terrell worked actively with the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was later appointed a charter member for the NAACP.

Ida B. Wells was born in Mississippi in 1862 during the Civil War. Similar to Terrell, her family stressed the importance of education to Wells at an early age. Wells attended Rust College, but was expelled after a dispute with the university president. Wells focused her activism on white mob violence and lynchings. The roots of her activism are similar to Terrell’s as one of her close friends was lynched pushing her into discussing mob violence. Wells traveled nationally focusing on exposing lynchings and white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynchings.

Wells and Terrell both focused on anti-lynching campaigns. While Wells primarily sought to expose the realities of lynchings and bring awareness to them, Terrell focused on the advancement of African-Americans through racial uplift. The roots of their activism come from the witnessing of lynchings of close personal friends. Both women propose responses to anti-black violence instead of solutions, but Terrell’s concept of racial uplift was considered a solution by some.


Mary Shandley Unit 4 Assignment 1

While the Jim Crow discrimination that Mary Church Terrell describes is far less physical than the lynchings that Ida B. Wells writes about, both women bring up issues that devastate the African-American population. The distinctions, as well as the commonalities, between these two forms of violence remind unaffected readers that violence is not always skin-deep. In cities such as Washington, where it may be harder to get away with or justify physical violence, white people would feel the need to express their racism-fueled frustrations towards marginalized populations through exclusion and discrimination under legal guise. The same motive of inherited hatred is at the root of both lynchings and Jim Crow laws.

Terrell focuses her examples of racial exclusion on the stories of women of color, making sure to refer to herself as a colored woman rather than simply a person of color. She does this perhaps in order to emphasize the unique position of black women, who receive two-fold discrimination. In Wells’s descriptions of lynching, she refers to black and white womens’ true and false accusations of rape, pointing out that white womens’ accusations are much more likely to be acted upon without investigation. While both Wells and Terrell acknowledge that both  white and black women experience violence, they also draw attention to the significant privileges that white women still hold over black women when they are violated.

Both writers put racial issues in the United States in a worldly perspective, saying that we should be ashamed for the atrocities committed within our borders and that we have no right to judge the actions of other racist nations without addressing our own. Additionally, they advocate for the elimination of white ignorance and, as a result, legislative hypocrisy. They say that the rights promised in our laws and Constitution should apply to everyone and be followed through in the courts.

Sadie Blackshear Unit 4 Assignment 1

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell was a charter member of the NAACP and the first president of the NACW. She was earned her master’s degree in education and taught at two schools. Her career in activism sparked when one of her friends was lynched, and she joined Ida B. Wells in fighting mob violence. Terrell focused on “racial uplift” to resolve anti-black violence, similarly to DuBois, which was the idea that if the race as a whole improved their social standing, education, and work ethic, then they would garner more respect. She also believed that the success of one black person positively reflected on their race as a whole. She joined the Colored Women’s League to help educated black women “lift” themselves outside of a church setting. Additionally, Terrell helped end segregation in dining facilities and largely contributed to the precedent set for Brown v. Board of Education through her activism.

Ida B. Wells

Born into slavery, Ida B. Wells was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Wells merged the concepts of racial uplift and religion into her activism. She believed that it was immoral for any Christian to deny civil rights to black people, because justice of all forms is intrinsic to Christian ideals. Wells was a journalist that could not and would not be silenced despite numerous threats and endless persecution. She also worked as a teacher in a segregated school, but after she publicly criticized the condition of the school, she was fired. After publishing an article against lynching, she was purged from Memphis by a mob that destroyed her property and she was “recommended” to find exile. She moved to Chicago, married a famous activist lawyer, and ran her own newspaper in which she could publish as she pleased. Wells was also a founding member of the NAACP, but unlike Terrell, she is not credited as a chartering member, despite having been there at the time. She eventually cut ties with the NAACP because she felt it was not rooted enough in action-based resolutions. Wells used her position as a journalist as an outlet for her activism, writing to critique the World’s Columbian Exposition and lynchings, among other topics. She led a protest at the White House for anti-lynching.


Both women, while advocating racial uplift and anti-lynching campaigns, also contributed to the suffragette movement on the behalf of all women. They strived to make the movement intersectional and called upon women whose activism only favored themselves and provoked them to consider the larger picture.

Ian Rolls – Unit 4 Post 1

Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell , reconstruction era black, female, and educated journalists, both encounter unwritten laws that cause different types of violence against African Americans. Wells writes about how lynchers become self-appointed judges, juries, and executioners of an unwritten law that causes this violence and discrimination. Similarly, Terrell encounters discrimination that seems to force white people to avoid employment and service of black people, and notices that nobody can explain why black people aren’t allowed employment or service. This unwritten, innate law seems to lead to both discrimination and lynching, which seem to be the implementation and enforcement methods that uphold Jim Crow. Both tried to combat this violence with journalism to increase awareness as well as advocate for the equality of black women. They also held prominent positions in organizations like the NAACP and NACW and used those organizations for advocacy and initiatives to push for equal rights. Although, in their published work, Wells and Terrell don’t advocate for a specific plan of change, their actions in journalism show that they believe education about equality and rights is the next step needed to improve equality.

Unit Four, Assignment One, Virginia Adams

History deems both Mary Eliza Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett as incredibly crucial African American Activists. The accolades of the former, who graduated from college before her illustrious career, include membership in the National American Woman Suffrage Organization, the National Association of Colored Women’s Club (as President), the District of Columbia Board of Education, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the American Association of University Women. Terrell focused on bridging the gap between white and black women, especially ensuring that suffrage movements petitioned for this right to extend to women of both races. She also served as a proponent for equal education for women of all races, and advocated against Jim Crow Laws and lynchings. Wells, on the other hand, spending her career as a journalist, became known primarily for her exposés on the horrific nature of lynchings (after having gained some publicity for the Federal law suit she lost for her rejection from a first class train). Some cite religious motivations as a key facet of this activism, without explaining from which tradition these motivations stem. Although she also involved herself in suffrage movements, she frequently expressed her frustrations that the primary proponents of this movement did not give lynching adequate attention. She furthermore served in the National Association of Colored Women’s Club and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Terrell’s version of violence centers around instances in Washington D.C. of overt racism, in which the perpetrator sometimes blatantly explains that he or she only justifies this action of subordination or prohibiting access on the grounds of race. Most of her examples tell of individual stories across many facets of society (leisure, education, restaurants, transportation) that segregate and cites that violence frequently accompanies episodes of such discrimination. According to Terrell, such violence ensues because whites do not fear consequences from the legal system. Focusing then on women, Terrell explains how all of these race-base struggles are heightened for women of color, as education does little in providing them more job opportunities (they cannot serve in fields requiring education). As such, she explains how society tells and shows women of color they do not need an education.

Wells, on the other hand, focuses on unpacking how lynching happens due to an anarchy present despite the law. Such crimes derive their justification from an “unwritten law”, frequently as a retaliation for the extension of suffrage to African American males. Wells thus communicates how women especially become the victims of such crimes, because they face repercussions of the rage of a right’s expansion that they themselves still have yet to receive. The humiliation also perpetuates and encourages this cycle of violence, according to Wells, especially when combined with the overall lack of legal consequences these aggressors face.

Beyond the commonality of both authors’ violence stemming from its perpetrator’s lack of fear of the law, these authors both remark how, especially for women of color, a great irony exists between de iure customs and de facto circumstances in the United States. How far both types of violence have strayed from what the United States claims it has believed provide a crucial commonality within these crimes. Furthermore, while neither author proposes specific policy solutions against these aggressions, both suggest that the nation must realign itself so that it places what it claims to value, in actuality, does reflect itself in the focus of its actions.

Safi El-Gamal: Unit 4 Assignment 1

As the first president, (and later honorary president for life), of the National Association of Colored Women, Mary Church Terrell heavily advocated for the right of African American Women in the South.  She sought equal rights for blacks, repealed Jim Crow legislation, and improved working standards for black women.  Her activism was sparked in 1892 when one of her friends, Thomas Moss, was lynched with white business competitors.  She began to advocate for racial equality through a “lifting as we climb” approach, as she believed that blacks could obtain equality through advancing in business.  She saw that blacks could not sink down to the level of violence the surrounding white population perpetrated on them, and instead would have to raise in the ranks of power to be able to create a substantial amount of change.  Blacks would have to earn the respect of whites in order to stop anti-black surges of violence.  Ida B. Wells, however, had a very different approach in her response to anti-black violence.  Similar to Terrell, her advocacy sparked when three of her friends were lynched in Tennessee, but she began her crusade against violence fearlessly to expose the violence against the blacks.  She began her journalism career writing for several black newspapers using investigative information in her exposes.  Her rather direct approach triggered much attention from the white audience, but she stood firm in her belief for women’s suffrage and racial equality.  Both Terrell and Wells began their advocacy with a close friend’s lynching; however, their approaches were quite different to reaching racial equality different in the extent of how direct they were.  Neither approach was incorrect, but I thought it was interesting how different their approaches were coming from such a similar experience that sparked their advocacy.

Aliza Cantor Unit 4 Assignment 1

Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell were both extremely influential as they advocated for equality as black women. Although they covered the same topics broadly, they chose to focus in on separate, more specific ones, not to say they did not dip their toe into other ponds as times. Wells’ focus was on racism in the deep South, specifically on the unjust lynchings that were too often overlooked by the law.  Wells was faced with frequent threats and quite a lot of violence however she did not stop reporting. After reporting on a lynching that was brought on because a black mans business was competition of a white mans, Wells was forced to move to Chicago, for her own safety. This, however, did not stop her from reporting on the violence that surrounded the lynchings in the South. 

Terrell focused on a similar topic of racial violence however on the basis of the notion of racial uplift, which is the belief that black people would help end racial discrimination. Her words, “Lifting as we climb” was the motto for the National Association of Colored Women, a group she helped found. The motto was in reference to creating equal opportunities for the race. By doing so, individuals would be able to succeed, and as they succeeded, the whole race would be lifted. Later she put more of her focus on the discrimination that specifically black women faced, after realizing that they (which included herself) had to overcome two of the hardest obstacles in the United States.

Sadie Blackshear Unit 3 Assignment 3

The excerpt about dogs eating the massacred Tutsis, on page 148 of Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, neatly ties into Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. After asking about the curious lack of dogs in Rwanda, he receives the general consensus of what happened to the population. One person tells Gourevitch that the dogs were preserved on film, and he morbidly describes the many videos he subjected himself to. He describes horribly explicit videos, and it makes me think of what Sontag had to say about press coverage and censorship for images of a country’s citizens versus images of “exotic” postcolonial locations (pg 71). She notes that though in America, for example, oftentimes in mainstream media photos of Americans in war have shrouded or hidden faces, “this is a dignity not thought necessary to accord to others.” The media is much more likely to willingly expose in plain sight the identities of individuals who are seemingly locked into a life that is “inevitable” for their “benighted or backward” (code words for impoverished) country. People see images such as those of dogs savagely feasting on rotting corpses and think, “How terrible that that is happening,” and they may even feel sympathy, but there is no action taken from these feelings that show proper empathy as Sontag sees it. The UN peacekeepers in Rwanda at the time had not intervened in any of the killing of Tutsis and Hutus by the Hutu Power party, and yet they found it a “health problem” to allow the dogs to live and eat the dead bodies that remained. This reaction is twisted at best, because rather than saving the dying or clearing the bodies, they eliminated the animals that were following their instincts to survive. This brings a question to my mind: during other genocides, were bodies left were they fell as they were in Rwanda? Did peacekeepers find it necessary to exterminate an entire animal population from countries in which genocides occurred in order to avoid the “health problem” of human flesh being consumed?

Sam Heie: Unit 3, Assignment 3

The two texts have some extrinsic similarities, but I’d say counter each other more than work together in unison. The similarities lie in the subject matter; both pieces depict an outsiders perspective of atrocities, war for Sontag and genocide for Gourevitch. Sontag discusses the effects of abundant viewership of images of atrocities and how it essentially numbs us to the actual horror of the events. She argues that our own personal conceptions of the victims and perpetrators have an immense impact on our emotional reaction to the atrocities. Gourevitch argues that the Rwandan genocide was not appropriately addressed by the world powers and was cast aside as a political question instead of a moral one. I think the reading of these two texts concurrently is important because Sontag challenges us to separate our personal feelings towards the victims and perpetrators of violence and view all acts of war and oppression as equally revolting which demonstrates how bad the complacency of the world powers in Gourevitch’s telling of the Rwandan genocide was.

Catherine Chimley – Finding Humanity in Human Suffering

In my reading of the two texts we are addressing in this unit of our Humes course, I initially found only one similarity between the views presented by Gourevitch and Sontag – both depictions of human suffering and our reactions to it were strikingly painful to read. As I read further into these texts, my understanding of the views presented by the authors grew, and I began to contemplate the initial reaction I had to texts that cover very different materials but explore common themes. Why was it difficult for me to read these texts without feeling sadness afterward? In my meditation on this question, I discovered that this question evokes the subjects being explored by Gourevitch and Sontag – human reactions to suffering felt by others with whom they can identify, as well as the pervasive dehumanization found in situations of genocide and warfare. While Gourevitch discusses a specific instance of this dehumanization and suffering, with the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, Sontag explores this psychological contrast within the context of a variety of instances throughout history. Despite these differences in scope, the two texts are similar in their subject, as well as the choices they make in approaching the struggles of the human condition – the incredible capacity for empathy as well as the violent effects of dehumanization to “others.”