Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a leading journalist, activist, and researcher in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In her life, she fought against sexism, racism and violence.
As an expert writer, Wells-Barnett also used her skills as a journalist to shed light on the conditions of African-Americans across the South.
Ida Bell Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. She was born into slavery during the Civil War. Once the war ended, Wells-Barnett’s parents became politically active in Reconstruction Age politics. Her parents instilled in her the importance of education. Wells-Barnett enrolled at Rust College, but was expelled when a dispute with the university president began. In 1878 Wells-Barnett went to visit her grandmother. While there, Wells-Barnett was informed that a yellow fever epidemic had affected her hometown. The disease carried both Wells-Barnett’s parents and her younger brother. Left to raise her brothers and sisters, she took a job as a teacher in order to keep the family together. Eventually Wells-Barnett moved her brothers to Memphis, Tennessee. There she continued to work as an educator.
In 1884, Wells-Barnett filed a lawsuit against a train car company in Memphis for unfair treatment. She had been thrown off a first-class train, despite having a ticket. Although he won the case locally, the ruling was eventually overturned in federal court. After the lynching of one of her friends, Wells-Barnett turned her attention to the violence of the white mafia. She became skeptical of the reasons why black men were lynched and set out to investigate several cases. She published her findings in a brochure and wrote several columns in local newspapers. His exposition of an enraged lynching town of 1892, which burned his press and drove her from Memphis. After a few months, the threats became so severe that she was forced to move to Chicago, Illinois.
Wells-Barnett joined other African American leaders in calling for a boycott of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Boycotters accused the exposure committee of blocking African Americans and negatively portraying the black community. In 1895 Wells-Barnett married the famous African-American lawyer Ferdinand Barnett. Together, the couple had four children. Throughout her career, Wells-Barnett balanced motherhood with her activism.
Wells-Barnett traveled internationally, shedding light on lynching to foreign audiences. Abroad, she openly confronted white women in the suffrage movement who ignored the lynching. Because of her stance, she was often derided and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations in the United States. However, Wells-Barnett remained active in the women’s rights movement. She was the founder of the National Association of the Club of Women of Color, which was created to address issues related to civil rights and women’s suffrage. Although she was at Niagara Falls for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her name is not mentioned as the official founder. At the end of her career, Wells-Barnett focused on urban reform in the growing city of Chicago. She died on March 25, 1931.