Although Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells were both Civil Rights activists, they had different approaches toward eliminating inequality, which can be attributed to their different backgrounds and beliefs.
Mary Church Terrell was born the daughter two two former slaves in 1863 in Memphis, TN. Viewing her own parents’ success as small business owners, she especially valued the importance of an education (she was one of the first African American Women to earn a college degree), and hardwork, taking a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of approach to social mobility. Terrell was particularly active in the women’s suffrage movement, advocating for the franchise of all women regardless of race.
Ida B. Wells was born into slavery in MIssissippi in 1862. Like Terrell, Wells believed strongly in the importance of education, and worked as both a teacher and a journalist. Wells also helped found the NAACP. In 1892 she wrote an expository piece, “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases,” about the lynching of African American men, after experiencing the devastating effects of violence first hand when her friend was lynched. The articles caused so much backlash in Memphis that Wells had to move to Chicago.
Although the death of a friend to mob violence was the impetus for both women’s advocacy against lynching, Wells and Terrell described violence differently. Wells believed lynch violence was a means for the white population to suppress the threat of African American success and potential for advancement, while Terrell focused on ending violence by encouraging African Americans to lift each other up. Wells’s views, particularly her suggestion that armed defense may be necessary to prevent violence against African Americans, were considered more provocative and radical, with the U.S. government even marking her a “race agitator”. The white population widely found Terrell’s moderate and gradual approach more palatable, but Terrell also attributes the greater degree of respect she received to her ability to pass as white.
Wells and Terrell took very different approaches to advocating for the rights of African Americans, however both women are respected as integral figures in the fight for equal rights for women and African Americans during the Reconstruction Era.