Ida Bell Wells (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the African-American journalist, founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, co-founder of the National Afro-America Council, founding member of the NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People), newspaper editor woman’s rights and suffragist, sociologist, Ida B. Wells documented lynchings in the United States.
Wells and her 5 younger siblings were offended when she was still a teenager. In an attempt to keep the remaining family together, Wells taught elementary school.
Wells was instrumental in bringing attention to lynching in the U.S. to the rest of the country and world.
Wells while on a train ride discovered the way black men were treated in the South. She was also forced to move to the backof the train, not allowed to ride with white passengers. 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.
In Memphis, Wells co-owned and edited the black newspaper called The Free Speech and Headlight, where she wrote about “violence against blacks, condemned violence against blacks, disfranchisement, poor schools, and the failure of black people to fight for their rights.” When she was fired from her teaching post for her incendiary ideas suggesting that blacks were humans that deserved rights, she became a full-time journalist.
In 1892, a black store owner named Tom Moss, along with Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart, were arrested for protecting Moss’ store from racist attacks and then dragged from their cells and lynched by a white mob. Wells was vocal about the racial violence and terror in her paper and told her fellow black residents to move out of Memphis. She traveled the South gathering stories of other blacks who’d been lynched, essentially kicking off the anti-lynching movement, according to Biography. One day, while she was away traveling, an angry white mob destroyed her newspaper office and declared that she’d “be killed if she ever returned to Memphis.”
Wells wrote many pamphlets exposing white violence and lynching and defending black victims. In 1895 she married Ferdinand Barnett, a prominent Chicago attorney. The following year she helped organize the National Association of Colored Women. She was opposed to the policy of accommodation advocated by Booker T. Washington and had personal, if not ideological, difficulties with W.E.B. Du Bois. In 1909, she helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Wells-Barnett continued her fight for black civil and political rights and an end to lynching until shortly before she died.