Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells were both black activists, writers, and reformers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Researching their religious backgrounds was difficult, however, Wells is confirmed to be baptized in the Methodist Church. Both the daughters of slaves immediately before emancipation and the Reconstruction period, Terrell and Wells were educated and affluent, becoming successful, earning their label today as part of the “black elite.” Having this privilege, these women used their abilities and opportunities to speak out and fight racial discrimination and violence. In particular, Terrell brought attention to the suffrage movement, emphasizing the importance of allowing black women to vote, and Wells researched and wrote about the unjust practice of lynching in the South.
Mary Church Terrell focused her solution on “racial uplift.” This is the concept that blacks must take advantage of opportunities to advance themselves through education, work, and activism. If one black person becomes successful, this helps to elevate the race as a whole. This concept however, is based on the idea that all blacks have equal opportunities as whites, which aligns with Terrell’s background, as she took advantage of opportunities, received an education, and advanced past her parent’s lives to become successful.
To expose the corrupt punishment of lynching, Ida B. Wells researched and wrote reports, creating solutions to this racial violence. Wells believed that lynching was practiced not to ensure punishment for criminals, but to enforce “economic subordination” on blacks. In her research, she found that lynching was often justified by the myth of black men raping white women. However, this was not usually the case, but instead it was a way to protect white economic power during the Reconstruction period. To combat this practice and ensure black economic advancement, Wells “encouraged black residents… to leave, taking with them their labor and capital.”
Peebles-Wilkins, Wilma, and E. Aracelis Francis. “Two Outstanding Black Women in Social Welfare History: Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.” Affilia5, no. 4 (December 1, 1990): 87–100. https://doi.org/10.1177/088610999000500406.
National Women’s History Museum. “Mary Church Terrell.” Accessed November 17, 2019. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/mary-church-terrell.
Ugarte, Rodrigo. “Ida B. Wells and the Economics of Racial Violence.” Items(blog). Accessed November 17, 2019. https://items.ssrc.org/reading-racial-conflict/ida-b-wells-and-the-economics-of-racial-violence/.
Center for the Study of Southern Culture. “On Violence in the South: Ida B. Wells-Barnett,” July 11, 2016. https://southernstudies.olemiss.edu/on-violence-in-the-south-ida-b-wells-barnett/.