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Ida B. Wells: American Stories

WTTW Chicago shines a light on the pioneering investigative journalist, civil rights leader, and suffragist

  • Christina Zeiders

Ida B. Wells – a 19th-century investigative journalist, civil rights leader, and passionate suffragist – is a historical figure whose life and work speak clearly to the current moment.

In the wake of her recent posthumous Pulitzer Prize citation and the release of a revealing new biography by her great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, Ida B. Wells: American Stories tells her story.

Watch Ida B. Wells: American Stories on WITF TV Monday, February 6 at 9pm or stream it for free through the PBS app until April 1.

Ida B. Wells: American Stories paints a deeply humanizing portrait of a woman who was uncompromising in her quest for justice through interviews with her descendant and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Wells’ journey begins at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, as she stands at the entrance to the Haitian Pavilion, distributing pamphlets protesting the exclusion of African Americans from the event. Discover what brought her to that defining moment and follow her rise out of slavery in Mississippi to become a world-renowned investigative journalist.

Explore how her reporting helped to turn the tide of public opinion against lynching, how she helped found (and then battled with) the NAACP, and how she forced the suffrage movement to include Black women.

We’ll also learn about Wells’ personal life – her refusal to compromise strained her friendships and earned her enemies – and examine her marriage to Ferdinand Barnett and her friendships with Frederick Douglass, Jane Addams, and others.

“The painful racial reckoning that Americans experienced over the past year harkens back to the struggles Ida B. Wells faced more than a century ago,” said producer-writer Stacy Robinson. “In this film, we’re looking at the past in a different way…and at how America and race relations have changed or not changed.”

Ida B. Wells: American Stories places her life and legacy squarely in the context of today’s world, illustrating how the battles Wells fought in her lifetime are ongoing and how today’s activists draw inspiration from her work.

Stream Ida B. Wells: American Stories now through the free PBS app, or watch it on WITF TV on Monday, February 6 at 9pm.

Want to know more? Visit the companion website to explore her accomplishments, the causes she championed, her investigative reporting, and her life and family. You’ll also find an extended interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones on Wells’ journalistic legacy and a photo essay by Chicago architecture writer and photographer Lee Bey.

WITF’s Black History Month programs are supported by Mid Penn Bank.

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