Ida B. Wells-Barnett

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Contributed by Tania Padgett and Romon Mckenzie, Color of Justice

Journalist, educator and activist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi, just six months before the Emancipation Proclamation.  She would go on to become one of the most powerful leaders in early 19th century civil rights and suffragist movements. Wells-Barnett was educated at a historically Black college until tragedy struck in 1878 when both her parents and infant brother succumbed to yellow fever.  She was just 16 but managed to take care of her siblings while making money as a teacher.  She continued her education at Fisk University where she spoke passionately on racial injustice and women’s rights.  During this time, her journalism flourished.  When her dear friend Thomas Henry Moss was lynched, Wells-Barnett set out to investigate why African-American men were increasingly being targeted by this violence; she published her extensive findings in a pamphlet and wrote scathing anti-lynching columns for several Black newspapers. One such column enraged white people so much that a mob attacked and destroyed the offices of newspaper she wrote for and co-owned in 1892. That and threats against her life forced her to flee Memphis for Chicago. In 1895, she married prominent Chicagoan attorney Ferdinand L. Barnett, and they had four children. Wells-Barnett’s activism soon turned to women’s suffrage. She helped start the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and the Alpha Suffrage Club in 1913, which both focused on getting women the vote. Wells-Barnett frequently pushed back against the racism within the women’s suffrage movement. When she was asked to march in the back of a prominent women’s suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., in 1913, she refused and walked with the white Illinois delegation. Wells-Barnett began writing her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, in 1928, but never completed it. She died in Chicago on March 25, 1931, at the age of 68.