Earlier Life

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born a slave in the Confederate State of Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862. Ida was the oldest child of James (Jim) and Lizzie Wells. Six months after Ida’s birth United States President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all slaves for bondage. At the end of the war 90% of African American was literate, and after the war white men and women came to the South from the North to teach blacks how to read and write. Wells mother went to school with her children until she learned to read and write, while Ida father was very involved in with the Freeman’s Aid Society . He also helped start Shaw University(now Rust College) a school for newly freed slaves and he served on the first board of trustees.

Ida received early schooling at Shaw University. while on school break and visiting her grandmother in Mississippi Valley when in 1878 the Mississippi Delta was hit by an plague called Yellow. James and Lizzie died within 24 hours of each other also well as Ida 10-month-old brother. Ida and siblings became orphans. Wanting to keep her remaining family together Ida was force to drop out of Shaw University before completing. Ida decide to take a teaching job to support her three younger siblings. Ida resented the fact that White teachers was paid $80 a month while Black teachers was paid $30 a month.


Ida heard that in Memphis, Tennessee black teachers was paid more, in 1882, Wells packed up her late parents home and moved the siblings and herself 40 miles away to live with an aunt in Memphis Tennessee. While in Memphis, Tennessee Ida decide to finish her education at Fisk University a historically black College Nashville, Tennessee. Ida held strong political opinions and provoked many people with her views on women’s rights. At the age 24 Ida wrote: “I will not begin at this late day doing what my soul abhor; sugaring men, weak deceitful creatures, with flattery to retain them as escorts or to gratify a revenge.”


Train Incident

On May 4, 1884 Ida reached a personal turning point. Ida purchase a first class train ticket from Memphis to Nashville. While aboard a train conductor order Wells to give up her seat to in the first-class ladies car and move to the African American class. A year before, the Supreme Court had ruled against the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1875 (which had banned racial discrimination in public accommodations.)  Wells refused arguing she brought a first class ticket. The conductor and passengers physically removed Wells from the train.   Wells returned to Memphis and gained publicity when she wrote a newspaper article for The Living Way, a black church weekly, about her treatment on the train. she hire an Memphis Lawyer and brought suit to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company


On December 24, 1884 Circuit Court Order the railroad company to paid an $500 settlement to Wells. After Wells big win the Railroad company appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which ruled in the railroad company favor it concluded, “We think it is evident that the purpose of the defendant in error was to harass with a view to this suit, and that her persistence was not in good faith to obtain a comfortable seat for the short ride.” Wells was ordered to pay court cost.

While working as a Elementary school teacher Wells took other job as a journalist and publisher for the Evening Star  and  The Living way newspaper under the pen name “Iola” and gained a reputation for her writings about race issues. In 1889 Wells brought shares in a black newspaper Memphis Free and Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregationist newspaper that was started by the Reverend Taylor Nightingale, she later became full owner of the Memphis newspaper.

Lynching of Dear Friends

In 1889 Thomas Moss a friend of Wells opened a Store the “People’s Grocery” in a black neighborhood just outside the Memphis City limits. Moss business drew black customers away from white-owned stores in the same neighborhood angering white store owners. In March 9, of 1892 Thomas Moss and two of his workers McDowell and Stewart  got into a scuffle with seven white males ending in three white males getting injured. The sheriff arrested Moss, McDowell and Stewart. While the three men lay in jail on pending charges, a large White Mob entered the jail and lynched all three men.

Wells published a pamphlet encouraged by the lynching of her friend titled: Southern Horrors: Lynching Law in All Its phases hshyyw Wells writes:

“The lesson this teaches and which every Afro-American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give. When the white man who is always the aggressor knows he runs as great a risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have greater respect for Afro-American life. The more the Afro-American yields and cringes and begs, the more he has to do so, the more he is insulted, outraged and lynched.”

Wells also urge blacks to leave Memphis. In one of Wells pamphlets she writes: “There is , therefore, only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will either protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but take us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons”.  In results of Wells outspokenness, on May 27, 1892 while Wells was away a mob destroyed the offices of the Free Speech and threatened to kill Wells. She fled Memphis determined to continue her campaign to raise awareness of Southern lynching. Wells took her Campaign Movement to England, and established the British Anti-Lynching Society in 1894.

Personal Life

Wells returned to United States and settled in Chicago, Illinois where she meant and married a attorney and newspaper editor Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895. The couple had four child Charles, Herman, Ida, and Alfreda. Wells found it every difficult to balance work life and family life, after her second child was born wells stepped back from touring.


Later Career

Wells had her hands om many projects. She established several civil rights organizations. In 1896 wells formed the National Association of Colored Women. After a brutal assault on the African-American community in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908 Wells sought to take action. The following year, she attended a special conference for the organization that would later become known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Through Wells is considered a founding member of the NAACP, Wells later cut ties with the organization. Wells explains her decision to cut all ties with NAACP in her written Biography stating that she felt the organization in its infancy at the time she left, had lack action-based initiatives.

Wells also work with the National Equal Rights League, called for President Woodrow Wilson to put an end to discriminatory hiring practices for government jobs. Wells created the first African American kindergarten in her community and she fought for women’s suffrage. In 1930, Wells made an unsuccessful bid for the state senate.



Ida B. Wells-Barnett died of Kidney disease on March 25, 1931 at the age of 69, in Chicago, Illinois. Wells left behind an impressive legacy of social and political heroism. Wells fought against prejudice, no matter the danger her outspokenness faced. She once wrote, “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”

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