Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862, Ida B. Wells was the oldest of eight children. Her parents and a younger sibling died in the Yellow Fever epidemic when she was 16. To support her family, she taught school and attended Rust College. She moved with her sisters to Memphis, and in 1884, on her way to work in a nearby town, she was asked by the train conductor to move to the smoking car. She refused and was forcibly removed. She sued and won her case, but it was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Wells began writing newspaper columns about her experience and became a vocal advocate for civil rights. She got a job as a teacher in Memphis and bought into a small newspaper. In 1892, three of her friends were lynched, and after her outspoken articles, her newspaper office was destroyed. Wells moved to New York, then Chicago, where she continued her crusade against injustice and worked on behalf of women’s suffrage. Wells married newspaper editor Ferdinand Barnett and had three children. She helped to found the NAACP, ran unsuccessfully for the legislature in 1930— one of the first black women to run for public office—and died a year later. Her autobiography was published in 1970.

More about: