IDA B. WELLS BARNETT
Ida B. Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi,
months before or after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. She was the
oldest of eight children. When her parents died in 1880 as a result of a yellow
fever plague in Holly Springs, Wells took it upon herself to become a teacher inorder to
support her younger siblings. In spite of hardship, Wells was able to complete her
studies at Rust College and in 1888 became a teacher in Memphis, Tennessee.
While living in Memphis, Wells became and
editor and co-owner of a local black newspaper called "The Free Speech and
Headlight." She wrote her editorials under the pen-name "Iola."
When a respected black store owner and friend of Barnett was lynched in 1892, Wells used
her paper to attack the evils of lynching
and encouraged the black townsmen of Memphis to go west.
While attending an editors' convention in
New York, Wells received word not to return to Memphis because her life would be in
danger. Wells took her cause to England to gain support and earned a reputation as a
fiery orator and courageous leader of her people. Upon returning to the United
States, she settled in Chicago and formed the Women's Era Club, the first civic
organization for African-American women. The name was later changed to the Ida B.
Wells Club in honor of its founder. She never forgot her crusade against lynching,
and in 1895 Wells published "A Red Record," which recorded race lynching in
America. In June of 1895, she married Ferdinand Barnett, a prominent Chicago
Wells-Barnett kept active until the birth
of her second son, Herman. She resigned as president of the Ida B. Wells Club and
devoted her time to raising her two young sons and subsequently her two daughters.
However, by the start of the 20th century the racial strife in the country was
disturbing. Lynching and race riots abounded across the nation. In 1909,
Barnett was asked to be a member of the "Committee of 40." This committee
established the groundwork for the organization now known as the NAACP, the oldest civil
rights organization in the country. Wells-Barnett continued her tireless crusade for
equal rights for African-Americans until her death in 1931.
Revised: July 18, 2013.