Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett fought for human rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Terrell was an African American activist who attended Oberlin College. She was in the growing upper-middle-class group of African Americans that fought against racial discrimination. She was born on September 23, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee. Both of her parents were former slaves. Her mother owned a hair salon, and her dad was a successful businessman who was one of the South’s first African American millionaires. Even Though they divorced, their affluence supported Terrell’s education, which allowed her to go to Antioch College laboratory school in Ohio. Her first career was in 1885 teaching modern language at Wilberforce University, a historically black college founded collaboratively by the Methodist Church in Ohio and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She started her activism in 1892 when her friend Tomas Moss was lynched in Memphis by whites because of his competitive business. This was when Terrell joined Ida B. Wells-Barnett in her anti-lynching campaigns. Even though Terrell helped with the anti-lynching campaigns, she focused on the notion of racial uplift, which is the notion that with blacks being educated, they would end racial discrimination. Terrel specifically fought for women suffrage and civil rights because she says that she belonged “to the only group in this country that has two such huge obstacles to surmont…both sex and race.” In 1904, she a founder and charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. When abroad from 1904 to 1919, she could persuade the foreign press to publish her articles on human relations.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. She as born into slavery during the Civil War, and when the war ended, her parents became active in the Reconstruction Era politics. Similarly to Terrell, her parents believed in the importance of education. Her father was involved with the Freedman’s Aid Society and helped start Shaw University. The university was a school for newly freed slaves. Her religious beliefs led her activism and devotion to racial uplift. Both her parents were devoutly religious. Religious parables provided the rhetoric of her arguments, which shaped the direction of her writing. Her social, political, and economic justice was not just for civil rights but based on the tenets of Christian ideals. At the age of 16, both of her parents passed away. This personal tragedy that made her become the oldest of the family. In 1893, she joined black leaders in calling for the boycott of the World’s Columbian Exposition. She also traveled internationally to spread her activism on lynching to foreign audiences. She would openly confront white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching. This act caused her ridicule by women’s suffrage organization. Even with some backlash, she remained to stay active in women’s rights.
Terrell and Well-Barnett made contributions to the development of human relations and civil rights during a period when women, black or white, were permitted only limited participation in public life. They also were at the forefront of campaigns to promote specific services to the black community. Some examples of these services were daycare, parental education, recreational programs, employment services, and a range of other services for youths and the elderly. Both of these activities reflected their style and self-expression that characterized black women reformers.