Last modified on May 20, 2022, at 17:46

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells
Mary Garrity - Ida B. Wells-Barnett - Google Art Project - restoration crop.jpg

Born July 16, 1862
Holly Springs, Mississippi
Died March 25, 1931
Chicago, Illinois
Spouse Ferdinand L. Barnett
Religion Christian

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931), often referred to as Ida B. Wells, was an American journalist, black civil rights leader, and anti-lynching crusader since after the Reconstruction era.

Early life

Ida Bell Wells was born on July 16, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The eldest daughter of Lizzie and James Wells, she grew up in the then-racist Deep South, facing discrimination that was imposed through laws by the Democratic Party. Wells attended school until she was 16, when her family was plagued by yellow fever, killing her parents and forcing her to take care of her siblings. Eventually, she was able to continue her education and attended Fisk University.

Civil rights crusade


In May 1884, Wells, who purchased a first-class train ticket, was sitting on her seat when a conductor told her to move out of the "whites-only" car and into the car for blacks.[1] After the conductor grabbed her to try and drag her away, Wells bit him, and other passengers dragged her away instead. She subsequently sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in a circuit court, winning a settlement of $500, though this was overturned later by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Wells, while working as a publisher, journalist, and a teacher, was an outspoken critic of conditions in segregated, blacks-only schools. For this, she was fired from her job in 1891 and her teaching contract was denied a renewal.

In 1892, three black men who set up a grocery store drew anger from a nearby white store owner, and while guarding their store one night, shot several vandals. Arrested, the were brought to a jail cell where a lynch mob soon dragged them out to be lynched. This incident marked the start of Wells' anti-lynching movement.


Wells wrote several editorials denouncing the lynchings being perpetrated against many blacks, including her friends that were murdered. She also traveled throughout the South in a risky endeavor to garner information on lynchings occurring. After an editorial had triggered many whites living in Memphis, Wells' newspaper office was stormed by a mob that destroyed her equipment. Fortunately, Wells was then in New York City and did not return to Memphis.

Deciding to reside in the North, Wells worked for the New York Age as a staff writer, drafting and publishing a report on lynching. The seriousness of the matter was exemplified in 1893, when she published A Red Record. One of Wells' efforts in the 1890s was funded by the runaway slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Another that funded Wells' work was Ferdinand Barnett, who she would marry in 1895.


Wells helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People along with other black civil rights leaders.[2] However, she later left the organization amidst the ongoing leadership and the lack of initiatives based on action.

Other efforts

Wells lead her anti-lynching activism to the White House in 1898, calling for then-president William McKinley, a Republican, to enact reforms.

Founding the Negro Fellowship League in 1910, Wells became the first president of the organization, which had aided those who migrated to the North from the South. Wells also founded the Alpha Suffrage Club in 1913, a black woman suffrage group.

While working with the National Equal Rights League, Wells criticized the racist President Woodrow Wilson over discrimination in hiring standards.

Later life

Wells made an unsuccessful run for the Illinois Senate in 1930, and passed away the following year at the age of 68. Crusade for Justice, her autobiography, was posthumously published in 1970.



Overall, Wells supported the Republicans and opposed the Democrats. While the liberal website PolitiFact has argued against the idea that Wells registered as a Republican during the end of her life when running for a state Senate seat,[3] it is important to note that she vehemently denounced Democrats as the party of sheer racism and had earlier in her life allied herself with prominent Republicans.[4]

Wells was an outspoken proponent of gun rights as a necessary measure for self-protection.[5]


Wells, a devout Christian, condemned white supremacist phony "Christians" for the lynching of blacks as well as other churches that refused to do anything against the violence.[6]


The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.[7]
One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.[7]
A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home.[7]
Virtue knows no color line.[7]


External links