- NAME: Ida B. Wells
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: July 16, 1862
- DEATH DATE: March 25, 1931
- EDUCATION: Rust University, Fisk University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Holly Springs, Mississippi
- PLACE OF DEATH: Chicago, Illinois
- AKA: Ida B. Wells-Barnett
- Full Name: Ida Bell Wells-Barnett
- AKA: Ida Wells
- Maiden Name: Ida Bell Wells
- AKA: Ida B. Wells
- AKA: Ida Wells-Barnett
Best Known For
Ida B. Wells was an African-American journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s.
Ida B. Wells - Early Life (1:21)
Ida B. Wells biographer Mia Bay describes Wells as a "natural-born feminist" who inspired other women to become activists, support the suffrage movement and influence change in the country.
Although Ida B. Wells worried she didn't have enough education, she began to write and eventually became the most prominent female black journalist of her time, earning the nickname "Iola, Princess of the Press."
Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862, Ida B. Wells was orphaned as a child and became a teacher at the age of 16 to take care of her five brothers and sisters.
On May 4, 1884, 71 years before Rosa Parks inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott, civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells refused to give up her seat on a train, fueling her impassioned fight for equal rights.
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A daughter of slaves, Ida B. Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. A journalist, Wells led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s, and went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African-American justice. She died in 1931 in Chicago, Illinois.
"One had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap."
"The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them."
Born a slave in 1862, Ida Bell Wells was the oldest daughter of James and Lizzie Wells. The Wells family, as well as the rest of the nation's slaves, were freed about six months after Ida's birth, thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation. However, living in Mississippi as African Americans, they faced racial prejudices and were restricted by discriminatory rules and practices.
Ida B. Wells's father served on the first board of trustees for Rust College and made education a priority for his seven children. It was there that Wells received her early schooling, but she had to drop out at the age of 16, when tragedy struck her family. Both of her parents and one of her siblings died in a yellow fever outbreak, leaving Wells to care for her other siblings. Ever resourceful, she convinced a nearby country school administrator that she was 18, and landed a job as a teacher.
In 1882, Wells moved with her sisters to Memphis, Tennessee, to live with an aunt. Her brothers found work as carpenter apprentices. For a time, Wells continued her education at Fisk University in Nashville.
On one fateful train ride from Memphis to Nashville, in May 1884, Wells reached a personal turning point. Having bought a first-class train ticket to Nashville, she was outraged when the train crew ordered her to move to the car for African Americans, and refused on principle. She was then forcibly removed from the train. Wells sued the railroad, winning a $500 settlement in a circuit court case. However, the decision was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
This injustice led Ida B. Wells to pick up a pen to write about issues of race and politics in the South. Using the moniker "Iola," a number of her articles were published in black newspapers and periodicals. Wells eventually became an owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, and, later, of the Free Speech.
While working as a journalist and publisher, Wells also held a position as a teacher in a segregated public school in Memphis. She became a vocal critic of the condition of blacks only schools in the city. In 1891, she was fired from her job for these attacks. She championed another cause after the murder of a friend and his two business associates.
In 1892, three African-American men—Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart—set up a grocery store in Memphis. Their new business drew customers away from a white-owned store in the neighborhood, and the white store owner and his supporters clashed with the three men on a few occasions. One night, Moss and the others guarded their store against attack and ended up shooting several of the white vandals. They were arrested and brought to jail, but they didn't have a chance to defend themselves against the charges—a lynch mob took them from their cells and murdered them.
Read To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells by Mia Bay.
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