- NAME: Ida B. Wells
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: July 16, 1862
- DEATH DATE: March 25, 1931
- Did You Know?: Ida B. Wells was one of the first American women to continue to keep her last name after her marriage.
- 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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These brutal killings incensed Wells, leading to her write articles decrying the lynching of her friend and the wrongful deaths of other African Americans. Putting her own life at risk, she spent two months traveling in the South, gathering information on other lynching incidents. One editorial seemed to push some of the city's whites over the edge. A mob stormed the office of her newspaper, destroying all of her equipment. Fortunately,
Wells had been traveling to New York City at the time. She was warned that she would be killed if she ever returned to Memphis.
Staying in the North, Wells wrote an in-depth report on lynching in America for the New York Age, an African-American newspaper run by former slave T. Thomas Fortune. She lectured abroad in 1893, looking to drum up support for her cause among reform-minded whites. Upset by the ban on African-American exhibitors at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Wells penned and circulated a pamphlet entitled "The Reason Why the Colored American Is Represented in the World's Columbian Exposition." This effort was funded and supported by famed abolitionist and freed slave Frederick Douglass, and lawyer and editor Ferdinand Barnett. Also in 1893, Wells published A Red Record, a personal examination of lynchings in America.
In 1898, Wells brought her anti-lynching campaign to the White House, leading a protest in Washington, D.C., and calling for President William McKinley to make reforms. She married Ferdinand Barnett that same year, and was thereafter known as Ida B. Wells-Barnett. While the couple eventually had four children together, Wells remained committed to her social and political activism.
Ida B. Wells established several civil rights organizations. In 1896, she formed the National Association of Colored Women. After brutal assaults 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. Though she is considered a founding member of the NAACP, Wells later cut ties with the organization; she explained her decision thereafter, stating that she felt the organization—in its infacy at the time she left—had lacked action-based initiatives.
Working on behalf of all women, Wells, as part of her work with the National Equal Rights League, called for President Woodrow Wilson to put an end to discriminatory hiring practices for government jobs. She created the first African-American kindergarten in her community and fought for women's suffrage. In 1930, Wellst made an unsuccessful bid for the state senate. Health problems plagued her the following year.
Ida B. Wells died of kidney disease on March 25, 1931, at the age of 69, in Chicago, Illinois. She left behind an impressive legacy of social and political heroism. With her writings, speeches and protests, Wells fought against prejudice, no matter what potential dangers she faced. She once said, "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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Read To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells by Mia Bay.
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