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Ida B. Wells: Journalist, Activist
by:Tracey Casseus

Ida B. Wells was a woman who made great strides for African Americans as well as women throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century. She was a dedicated anti-lynching advocate, women’s right activist, journalist, and teacher. This remarkable woman fought to abolish lynching and establish racial and gender equality.
Wells was born in 1862 to slave parents. When she was 16 both her parents and her youngest siblings died of yellow fever. Wells took on the responsibility of tending to her five remaining siblings and at the age of 16 she took a teaching position at a county school to support her family.

Wells later moved to Memphis, Tennessee where she found a new teaching position in a city school. In 1884 while on the train commuting to her job Wells was asked by the conductor to move from her seat in the ladies car to the smoking car; when she refused the conductor and two other men physically removed her from the train. She then filed a suit against the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company and was awarded $500 in damages but the verdict was overruled in 1887. This case was the first of its kind in the south and sparked a great deal of public attention.

Wells soon began writing articles under the pen name “Iola” about issues on discrimination, inequality, poverty, and the lack of education. The controversy of these articles caused her teaching contract not to be renewed but enabled her to pursue an impressive career as a journalist.

In 1889 Wells became partner in the Free Speech and Headlight. In 1892 three of Wells black friends were lynched by an angry white mob. Wells friends were owners of a small grocery store that had taken away customers from the competing white business. An angry mob attacked the store but the owners fought back and shot one of the attackers. The owners of the store were jailed but then a lynch mob stormed the jail and murdered the three men.
Wells soon then began writing articles against lynching and became an ardent anti-lynching crusader. This activism and investigating into lynching in the South led to the destruction of her newspaper office by angry whites.

Wells relocated to Chicago and wrote for the New York Age as a staff writer but continued her activism against lynching. She was also a lecturer and organizer of anti-lynching societies. Wells traveled to Great Britain to discuss the lynching to the rest of the world. She also became a zealous women’s rights activist. Wells also was one of the founding members of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In 1895 Wells married F.L Barnett, an editor of Chicago’s early black newspaper. Wells took a time out from her activism to raise her four children. She even ran for Illinois State legislature, which made her one of the first black women to run for public office in the United States. Although she didn’t win it was quite an achievement. On March 25, 1931 she died at the age of sixty-nine.

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