Wells-Barnett, Ida B., 1862-1931

Alternative names
Birth 1862-07-16
Death 1931-03-25

Biographical notes:

Ida B. Wells (b. July 16, 1862, Holly Springs, MS - d. March 25, 1931, Chicago, IL) was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862, six months before the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to her slave parents. Following the death of both her parents of yellow fever in 1878, Ida, at age 16, began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Mississippi. Some time between 1882 and 1883 Wells moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to teach in city schools. She was dismissed, in 1891, for her outspoken criticism of segregated schools.

Her dismissal from the Memphis school system would be the beginning of her protests about justice, particularly as they pertained to the treatment of black Americans. In 1884 Ida B. Wells sued the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad for forcing blacks to ride in segregated and inferior carriages. Ida B. Wells won this case in the local court, but was defeated in the Supreme Court. Undaunted by heavy opposition and a seemingly hopeless cause, however, Wells, from that point on, made the welfare of African American people her main concern, meeting every obstacle head on with a characteristic determination.

A firm believer in the necessity for vast change, and in the value of education and direct challenge to bring this change about, Ida B. Wells began contributing articles to newspapers in 1887. She used these articles as a political tactic to further her cause; something she continued to do all her life. As editor of the Memphis Free Speech, her editorials condemning “lynch law” caused white mobs to wreck her press. One of the foremost crusaders against lynching, Wells was not silenced by such threats. Twice, in 1893 and 1894, she took her cause abroad on speaking tours of England, Scotland, and Wales.

In 1895 she published A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1893-1894 (Chicago: [1895]). The years 1893-1895 also saw Wells produce, with Frederick Douglass, Ferdinand L. Barnett (whom she was to marry in 1895), and I. Garland Penn, the booklet, The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the Columbian Exposition -- The Afro-American’s Contribution to Columbian Literature (Chicago: Ida B. Wells, 1893).

From 1910 on, Wells moved within the mainstream of black civic and political life in Chicago. She had, in earlier years, founded civic clubs -- the first of their kind for black American women; the Ida B. Wells Women’s Club is still in existence today. Between 1910 and 1931 she established the Negro Fellowship League, was instrumental in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and organized the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first suffrage club for black Women. She led the fight to elect Chicago’s first black alderman and congressman, Oscar DePriest, and herself ran (unsuccessfully) for state senator of Illinois in 1930. Her participation and leadership in numerous organizations, and her constant vigilance in the interests of black Americans was far-reaching.and a particularly difficult and courageous task.

About 1927, Ida B. Wells began to write her autobiography, which she finished before her death on March 21, 1931. Edited by her daughter, Alfreda M. Duster, the autobiography was published as Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, as part of a series of Negro American Biographies and Autobiographies edited by John Hope Franklin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (b. July 16, 1862, Holly Springs, Mississippi-d. March 25, 1931, Chicago, Illinois), also known as Ida B. Wells, was an African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist, Georgist, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.


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Ark ID:


  • African Americans
  • Lynching
  • African American women
  • African American journalists


  • Slaves
  • Civil rights workers
  • Newspaper editors


  • United States, 00, US
  • Holly Springs, MS, US
  • Chicago, IL, US