Ida Bell Wells was born a slave on July
16, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She was 6 years old when the
13th Amendment was passed making her a free citizen. Both of her
parents died in 1876 as a result of contracting Yellow Fever.
Ida attended The Holly Springs
Freedman's School and supported her family after the death of her
parents with teaching jobs. In 1880, Ida and two of her sisters moved
to the home of an Aunt in Memphis, Tennessee where she entered Fisk
She was a strong adherent of both civil
and women's rights. Ida was not at all bashful about making her views
known and took an active stand on rights issues. In 1884 while
traveling on a train, she sat in a whites only seat and was forcefully
removed from the train. Ida sued the Chesapeake, Ohio & South
Western Railroad Company. Her suit was initially successful but
was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme court. As a result of
her suit, Ida was dismissed from her job as a schoolteacher by the
Memphis School Board.
Another cause which Ida was deeply
involved in was the lynching of Black's. (Three close friends of
Ida's were lynched) She became a reporter and part owner of the
newspaper Free Speech in 1889 and used the paper as a platform to
speak out against lynching. In 1890, as a result of her articles
on lynching, her office was ransacked and her press destroyed. One of
the participants bragged that they would have lynched Ida, if she had
been present. (She was in Philadelphia at the time.)
Ida moved to New York and began working
for the New York Age as a staff writer. She organized societies
against lynching and lectured across the country. She wrote "Lynching
and the Excuse for it" in 1901 and her autobiography, Crusade
for Justice in 1928.
Ida married Ferdinand Barnett in 1895
and moved to Chicago. Ida and Ferdinand had four children. She also
began to actively campaign for women's suffrage at this time. She
helped to found The National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People in 1909 and served as the secretary of The
National Afro-American Council in 1910.
Ida's unflagging efforts on behalf of
civil rights were the cornerstone in the fight against Jim Crow laws
and were at the heart of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s.
Ida B. Wells died of Uremia on March
25, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois.