Toymaker Mattel releases a new Barbie doll honoring Ida B. Wells today. The doll is designed after the black journalist and civil rights activist. A statement on Barbie’s social media says that Wells brought “light to the stories of injustice that black people faced in her lifetime.”
The doll is dressed in a long, dark dress with a lace collar. She comes with a miniature replica of the Memphis Free Speech newspaper. Wells was co-owner and editor of that publication.
The new Barbie doll is available beginning today—Martin Luther King, Jr., Day—a day for remembering the necessary social changes in America that were still being addressed even a century after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
This doll is part of Mattel’s Inspiring Women Series. The collection is meant to honor historical and present-day role models for girls.
Just who was Ida Bell Wells? She was born into slavery in 1862. The Emancipation Proclamation decreed her and other enslaved people free about six months later. In 1884, Wells began her activism by suing a railroad. She had refused to move to a train car for African Americans after buying a first class ticket and was forcibly removed. Though she won at the local level, a federal court overturned the ruling.
Wells began writing about race and politics. She later became co-owner of two newspapers, The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight and Free Speech. Wells started investigating lynchings after a white mob killed three black men in Memphis, Tennessee, where she lived. After one editorial, angry, vengeful people destroyed her newspaper office. Threats against her life forced her to move to Chicago, Illinois.
Wells continued to advocate for justice on behalf of African Americans. After she married Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895, the two worked together for civil rights while raising four children. Wells also fought for women’s suffrage, despite facing racism within the movement.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. — James 2:1
(On the left, the Ida B. Wells Barbie holds a miniature newspaper. On the right is a photo of Ida B. Wells taken around 1893. Jason Tidwell/Mattel)