Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was a newspaper editor and journalist who went on to lead the American anti-lynching crusade. Working closely with both African-American community leaders and American suffragists, Wells worked to raise gender issues within the “Race Question” and race issues within the “Woman Question.” Wells was born the daughter of slaves in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. During Reconstruction, she was educated at a Missouri Freedman’s School, Rust University, and began teaching school at the age of fourteen. In 1884, she moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where she continued to teach while attending Fisk University during summer sessions. In Tennessee, especially, she was appalled at the poor treatment she and other African-Americans received. After she was forcibly removed from her seat for refusing to move to a “colored car” on the Chesapeake ; Ohio Railroad, the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected her suit against the railroad for violating her civil rights in 1877. This event and the legal struggle that followed it, however, encouraged Wells to continue to oppose racial injustice toward African-Americans. She took up journalism in addition to school teaching, and in 1891, after she had written several newspaper articles critical of the educational opportunities afforded African-American students, her teaching contract was not renewed. Effectively barred from teaching, she invested her savings in a part-interest in the Memphis Free Speech newspaper.
In 1892, Wells wrote a scathing series of editorials following the lynching of three prominent African-American Memphis businessmen, friends of Wells’s. In the aftermath of the lynching and her outspoken criticism of it, her newspaper’s office was sacked. Wells then moved to New York City, where she continued to write editorials and against lynching, which was at an all time high level in the years after Reconstruction. Joining the staff of The New York Age, Wells became a very respected lecturer and organizer for anti-lynching societies made up of men and women of all races. She traveled throughout the U.S. and went to Britain twice to speak about anti-lynching activities.
In 1895 Wells married Ferdinand L. Barnett, a Chicago lawyer, public official, and publisher of the Conservator. She settled in Chicago and adopted as her married name Ida Wells-Barnett. After 1895 she limited her activities to Chicago, but she was quite active in Chicago’s rapidly growing African-American community. In Chicago she wrote for the Conservator, published an expose of lynching, The Red Record, and organized Chicago women regarding several causes, from anti-lynching to suffrage. From 1898 to 1902, Wells served as secretary of the National Afro-American Council, and in 1910 she founded and became the first president of the Negro Fellowship League.
Throughout her life, Wells was militant in her demands for equality and justice for African-Americans, and insisted that the African-American community must win justice through its own efforts. She attended the 1909 meeting of the Niagara Movement, but she would not take part in the less radical National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which grew out of the conference. After a life of organizing and writing, she died in Chicago on March 25, 1931.