Ida B. Wells

Journalist. Teacher. Anti-Lynching Crusader. Women’s Rights Activist. Civil Rights Pioneer.

Ida B. Wells was born into slavery on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She was orphaned at 16 after both of her parents and a younger sibling died from a yellow fever epidemic. In order to support and care for her five remaining siblings, she secured a job as a teacher. She eventually moved to Memphis where she became a leading journalist and civil rights activist.

When her newspaper office was destroyed in an angry response to her outspoken writings, Ida B. Wells was exiled from Memphis, and stayed away from the South for over 30 years. In 1893 and 1894, she traveled across the United States and throughout the United Kingdom and Great Britain, passionately writing and speaking out against lynching. She eventually moved to Chicago and married Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895. The widowed Ferdinand was an attorney and editor of The Conservator, one of Chicago’s Black newspapers. In addition to the two children from his first marriage, he and Ida had four children together.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett continued her activism while juggling motherhood and her many civil rights commitments. In 1909, she was one of the founders of the NAACP, although she later had conflicts with its leadership because she was perceived as too “radical.” She also worked with Susan B. Anthony as a leader in the movement for women’s suffrage.

In Chicago, Ms. Wells worked with Jane Addams to prevent the establishment of segregated public schools, helped to open Chicago’s first kindergarten for Black children, founded the Negro Fellowship League to assist Black men and boys who were excluded from the YMCA, and started the Alpha Suffrage Club – an organization of Black women who worked to obtain the right to vote.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett died on March 25, 1931, at the age of 68, from a brief illness due to kidney failure. She and her husband, Ferdinand L. Barnett, are interred together in Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery.