Most people look forward to national holidays because it means no work or school. Time off is great, but we forget why we even have these holidays in the first place. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for example, commemorates his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. He is a national hero because he fought for racial equality in a nonviolent way.
However, there is one historical figure without a day in her honor who deserves one. Her name is Ida B. Wells, and she fits the bill as a national hero. She was a civil rights activist and journalist who risked her life to oppose oppression, racism, and violence in America.
A national hero is someone who inspires change and challenges what we assume to be normal and just. It is someone who fights for the cause of others, not just their own, and paves the way for change in political, economical, or social spheres. A national hero makes sacrifices in service of a greater cause.
Wells was a resilient woman who beat the odds. She was born a slave and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. When she was only 16, her parents and one sibling died due to yellow fever. Later, she became a teacher and mentor to her siblings. Wells proved herself to be a hard worker by overcoming many obstacles at a very young age.
Wells deserves to be recognized for her fight against segregation. In 1884, she resisted forcible removal from a whites-only train. She even bit an officer trying to defend herself, displaying her tenacious spirit. This situation motivated her to share her grievances and critique segregation by writing for black newspapers.
Because Wells openly critiqued segregation in America, she was fired from her job. This didn’t stop her from making an impact on the world. Wells also opposed lynching after her friend was murdered by a lynch mob. She took her grievances to pen and paper and traveled south to learn more about lynching incidents.
Wells was willing to risk her life for what she believed in. Her motto was, “One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” Indeed, Wells’ life was put at risk many times by mobs who stormed her office, destroyed her equipment, and sent her death threats. But Wells never gave up her struggle for justice after facing all these obstacles, which is what makes a national hero.
In 1909, she founded the National Association of Colored Women and attended a conference which was later called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization still active now.
The NAACP’s mission is to “ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.” This association works to achieve equality through democratic processes, seeks enforcement of civil rights, and educates the public about their rights. The NAACP is vital today for its continued work fighting racism.
I’m all for replacing Christopher Columbus Day with Ida B. Wells Day. On one hand, we should recognize how Columbus voyaged into the unknown and brought attention to the New World. However, we can’t ignore how he spearheaded the Transatlantic slave trade and exploited natives. Clearly, Columbus doesn’t meet the standard of a national hero.
Today, Wells continues to be a legacy for women’s suffrage, anti-lynching, and anti-segregation. Her life demonstrates that we can critique and protest injustice through writing, daily life choices, and involvement in organizations. This is why we should commemorate figures such as Ida B. Wells who put their lives on the line for the greater good.