Ida B. Wells grew up in the post–Civil War South and became a fierce opponent of lynching. She came to Chicago in 1893 to protest the exclusion of Negroes from exhibits at the World's Columbian Exposition. The Haitian building stood in as a center for Americans of color. Frederick Douglass, the noted abolitionist and advocate for equal rights, represented the Haitian government at the fair. Wells described Haiti's pavilion as “one of the gems of the World's Fair, and in it Mr. Douglass held high court.”
Ida B. Wells Frederick Douglass
Wells and Douglass co-authored and published the book, "The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not In The World's Columbian Exposition." (Available in PDF or Audio Book [runtime: 3:07:33] in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®.)
As Wells described it, the booklet was a clear, plain statement of facts concerning the oppression put upon the colored people in this land of the free and home of the brave. We circulated ten thousand copies of this little book during the remaining three months of the fair. Every day I was on duty at the Haitian building, where Mr. Douglass gave me a desk and spent the days putting this pamphlet in the hands of foreign visitors to the World's Fair.
Ultimately, the fair officials offered to sponsor a special day for Negroes. Wells and many other African Americans considered Negro Day little more than a gesture and were reluctant to participate. Frederick Douglass, however, took the opportunity to spotlight the problems that people of color faced in the United States. Douglass died in 1895, but Ida B. Wells moved permanently to Chicago and became involved in a wide range of civic and club activities like that of the Alpha [Woman's] Suffrage Club of Chicago. Wells was a Chicagoan until her death in 1931.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.