Today, July 16, 2015, is the 153rd birthday of the great Ida Bell Wells-Barnett.
She was born the youngest of eight children in Holly Springs, MS, on July 16, 1862, into slavery right before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. She would go on to oppose segregation starting when in May 1884, Ms. Wells boarded a train operated by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad and was threatened with removal from her seat. She refused to vacate her seat when the conductor physically removed her from the “lady/non-smoker” section and ordered her to go to the segregated “colored” section of the train. She sued, won her case, only to have it repealed, but, this did not in any way stop Ms. Wells from embarking on her destiny.
She was a crusader for justice and education. She traveled to the American South to gather information on lynching atrocities of Black Americans with skills that would later be called investigative journalism.
By twenty-five she was editor of the Memphis-based Free Speech and Headlight, and continued to publicly decry inequality even after her printing press was destroyed by a mob of locals who opposed her messages of truth.
In 1894, while living in Chicago, she became a paid correspondent for the broadly distributed Daily Inter Ocean, and in 1895 she assumed full control of the Chicago Conservator. As Matt Cruickshank illustrates in today’s Google Doodle, Ms. Wells travelled internationally, most notably to Scotland and England, and lectured with passionate rhetoric to bring light to the injustices that Black Americans suffered in their native country.
She revealed the cruelties of horrific lynchings, when on March 9, 1892, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Steward, three Black male colleagues of Ida, were lynched. She wrote the now famous Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, 1892, and A Red Record: Lynching in the United States, 1895.
She was active in women’s rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement, establishing several notable women’s organizations.
A great civil rights activist, she was one of the founders of the N.A.A.C.P. along with WEB DuBois.
Michelle Duster, Daniel Duster and David Duster, the great-great grandchildren of Ms. Ida B. Wells, speak of their illustrious ancestor in the article “The Descendants of Ida B. Wells’ Great Grandchildren….”. The article is wonderful to read what these descendants think of their great and famous ancestor.
After her retirement, Ms. Wells wrote her autobiography, Crusade for Justice (1928).
She never finished it; the book ended in the middle of a sentence, and in the middle of a word. Ms. Wells died of uremia (kidney failure) in Chicago on March 25, 1931, at the age of 68.
Her Chicago home, where she lived with her husband Ferdinand Barnett, from 1919 until 1929, is registered as a National Historic Landmark.
Located at 3624 S. Martin Luther King Drive, it is a private residence and is not open to the public.
Ms. Ida Bell Wells was one-of-a-kind, and there will never be another like her.
Happy Birthday, Ms. Ida Bell Wells-Barnett!