How the Murder of a Black Grocery Store Owner and His Colleagues Galvanized Ida B. Wells’ Anti-Lynching Crusade

The saga of People’s Grocery stands as a powerful reminder of the centrality of Black radicalism to the food justice movement

From Smithsonian: Coppery like a penny, thick like bad molasses, even a little gamey like a possum.

The white conductor’s blood in her mouth probably didn’t taste good, but it probably didn’t taste bad, either. Ida B. Wells sat firmly while the Memphis streetcar man gripped her body and tried to forcibly remove her from the first-class ladies car on a train from the Poplar Station to northern Shelby County in Tennessee. Wells—a prominent Black journalist and activist—took a bite out of the guy until he “bled freely,” he would later testify in court. After the conductor successfully dragged Wells off the train, she sued the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad Company for failing to provide “separate but equal” accommodations for Black and white passengers. She won the case and received a $500 settlement, but the ruling was ultimately overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Wells occupied that seat on September 15, 1883. Born about an hour southeast in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862, she’d lost her parents and young brother to the devastating 1878 yellow fever epidemic. Her parents were involved with Reconstruction-era politics and the democratization of education; their daughter would carry on that mantle as a radical teacher in her own right. She studied at the historically Black Shaw University (now Rust College), then took summer classes at Fisk University in Nashville and LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis.

The loss of both of her parents forced Wells to become the main caregiver for her five surviving siblings. The yellow fever epidemic ravaged the South, especially port cities and distribution hubs up and down the Mississippi Delta. The death toll reached more than 4,000 in New Orleans, 1,000 in the Vicksburg area and 5,000 in Memphis. Rich white people had the means to flee hotbeds of disease, but African American communities in larger cities were left to shelter in place. Black folks, however, would seize the means of survival in other ways.

More here.