American Portraits

Taking Responsibility: Ida B. Wells and the Anti-Lynching Campaign

In this lesson, students will learn about the Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign and how she took her responsibility of teaching others about lynching seriously. They will also determine ways they can be responsible.

Founding Principles

Equality image


Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Liberty image


Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.

Rule of Law image

Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.


Ida B. Wells was born a slave in 1862 at the height of the Civil War. After the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment officially ended slavery in the United States, Ida’s family became active in the Republican Party and the Freedman’s Aid Society. Tragedy struck the Wells family in 1878 when Ida’s parents and one of her brothers died from yellow fever. Ida dropped out of school and took a teaching job in Memphis, Tennessee to help keep her siblings together….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How might you be responsible in order to protect freedom?

Virtue Defined

Responsibility is accountability to myself and others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign and how she took her responsibility of teaching others about lynching seriously. They will also determine ways they can be responsible.


  • Students will analyze Ida B. Wells’ actions to stop lynchings.
  • Students will evaluation Wells taking responsibility to teach and inform others about lynching.
  • Students will apply their knowledge to determine ways to be responsible in their own lives.


Despite the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments following the Civil War, African Americans still needed to have their rights protected. During Reconstruction, southern states began to pass Jim Crow laws. These laws allowed segregation of the races in public buildings, transportation, and services. Blacks and whites could not use the same drinking fountains, bathrooms, or seats on buses and trains. Poll taxes and literacy tests were implemented in many states with the specific goal of preventing African Americans from voting.

The consequences for breaking Jim Crow laws could be severe, and accusations of African Americans could be arbitrary. Rather than be “innocent until proven guilty,” blacks were routinely attacked and punished by white mobs for alleged crimes.  Sometimes, whites lynched African Americans simply to remind them that they possessed no power. The century between the end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement saw nearly 3,500 African Americans lynched.


  • Thirteenth Amendment
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Fifteenth Amendment
  • Reconstruction
  • Jim Crow laws
  • Segregation
  • Poll taxes
  • Literacy tests
  • Arbitrary
  • Lynch
  • Ratification
  • Freedman’s Aid Society
  • Forcibly
  • Verdict
  • Deplorable
  • Pamphlets
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Ida B. Wells’ identity in relation to civil rights?
  • What was Ida B. Wells’ purpose?
  • Why did Ida B. Wells take actions against discrimination and lynching?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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