WOMEN AND ADVERSITY: IDA B. WELLS
CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST, JOURNALIST
I grew up hearing the name Ida B. Wells because a housing project in Chicago was named after this African American writer and activist, but I didn’t know who the woman really was or what she did.
The daughter of slaves, Ida was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862. Despite being freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, she and her family experienced severe discrimination. She landed a job as a teacher through sheer creativity and in 1882 moved to Memphis and continued her education at Fisk University.
In May 1884 she had a train ticket from Memphis to Nashville, but was told to move from the “women’s car” to the “Jim Crow” car. She was outraged at being removed from the train, and the incident initiated her civil rights activism. She began to write articles about race and politics in the South and bought a share in the Memphis “Free Speech and Headlight” newspaper.
A lynching in Memphis of three black businessmen made her incensed at the injustice and she continued to write about discrimination against blacks. This infuriated some whites, who destroyed her newspaper offices and equipment. She was in New York at the time but was warned she’d be killed if she returned to Memphis.
In 1895 she married Ferdinand Barnett, a prominent Chicago attorney and founder of “Chicago Conservator,” the city’s first African American newspaper. The couple had four children, but Ida continued her activism. In 1896 she formed National Association of Colored Women, but attacks continued and she attended a conference of activists that later became the NAACP. She called for an end to discriminatory hiring practices, fought for women suffrage and created a kindergarten in her community.
She died of kidney disease in 1931 in Chicago.
More about Ida B. Wells: