Today marks the 153rd birthday of Ida B. Wells. Ms. Wells was a leading activist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was a women’s rights advocate, anti-lynching crusader, suffragist and journalist.
Ms. Wells was born in Holly Springs, Ms in 1862. The oldest of seven children she lost her parents at the age of 14 and later attended Rust College.
Her first protest against social injustice occurred when during a train trip she was forced to move to another part of the train.
Wells first began protesting the treatment of black southerners when, on a train ride between Memphis and her job at a rural school, the conductor told her that she must move to the train’s smoking car. Wells refused, arguing that she had purchased a first-class ticket. The conductor and other passengers then tried to physically remove her from the train. Wells returned to Memphis, hired a lawyer, and sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. The court decided in her favor, awarding Wells $500. The railroad company appealed, and in 1887, the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the previous decision and ordered Wells to pay court fees. Using the pseudonym “Iola,” Wells began to write editorials in black newspapers that challenged Jim Crow laws in the South. She bought a share of a Memphis newspaper, the Free Speech and Headlight, and used it to further the cause of African American civil rights.
Ms. Wells became a fierce anti-lynching activist after the loss of three friends to lynchings in Memphis.
In 1892 three of her friends were lynched. Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart. These three men were owners of People’s Grocery Company, and their small grocery had taken away customers from competing white businesses. A group of angry white men thought they would “eliminate” the competition so they attacked People’s grocery, but the owners fought back, shooting one of the attackers. The owners of People’s Grocery were arrested, but a lynch-mob broke into the jail, dragged them away from town, and brutally murdered all three. Again, this atrocity galvanized her mettle.
Due to her investigative journalism involving the murders of her friends, Ms. Wells newspaper office was destroyed and she eventually moved to Chicago.
In Chicago, she helped develop numerous African American women and reform organizations, but she remained diligent in her anti-lynching crusade, writing Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. She also became a tireless worker for women’s suffrage, and happened to march in the famous 1913 march for universal suffrage in Washington, D.C. Not able to tolerate injustice of any kind, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, along with Jane Addams, successfully blocked the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago.
Ms. Wells married Attorney Ferdinand Barnett in 1895 and they had four children.
Ida Wells founded the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. and she was one of 2 African American women who helped form the NAACP IN 1909. Ida Wells died in 1931 at the age of 69.
Check out the video below about Ida B. Wells.
Google has honored Ida B. Wells 153rd birthday with a Google Doodle.
On July 16, Wells’ 153rd birthday, Google honored the “fearless and uncompromising” woman with a Doodle of her typing away on typewriter, a piece of luggage by her side.
“She was a fierce opponent of segregation and wrote prolifically on the civil injustices that beleaguered her world. By twenty-five she was editor of the Memphis-based Free Speech and Headlight, and continued to publicly decry inequality even after her printing press was destroyed by a mob of locals who opposed her message,” Google wrote in tribute of Wells.
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