A suffragist, an investigative reporter, and a pioneering researcher on racial violence.
Ida B. Wells was born into slavery and was orphaned as a teenager. At 16, she took a job as a teacher to support her siblings.
Her life took a turn at 21 when she was ordered to move from the first-class carriage due to her race. Ida resisted the conductor’s orders and was forcibly removed from the train. She sued the railroad company, and her story was published as a series of articles. That was the beginning of her career as a journalist.
After losing a friend to lynching, Wells devoted her time to research more than 700 racist lynchings. She traveled alone, investigated each case, published her findings, and raised national and international awareness to the injustice.
Still in her twenties, she became co-owner and co-editor of a local newspaper, with more than 200 reprints of her articles.
She toured the country and the UK giving public speeches on the data she collected, a campaign which helped decrease the number of lynchings.
She insisted on choosing a partner who would support her values. At 32, she married Chicago-based widower Ferdinand Barnett. To reflect her progressive views, she hyphenated her surname to Wells-Barnett. The couple had four children, in addition to Barnett’s two children from his first marriage.
In Chicago, she was an active suffragist and worked in many ways to achieve equality for people of color.
Before her death she was considered “the most famous black woman in the world”, but her heritage was not canonized as her peers. That is partially due to her gender and for being considered “too radical”.
In recent years, thanks to efforts of her great-granddaughter, there is more public recognition of her achievements, including a plaque and a street sign in Chicago and declaring July 16 as Ida B. Wells-Barnett day in Shelby County, Tennessee.
“Our youth are entitled to the facts of race history which only the participants can give”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She regularly read the Bible and Shakespeare.
- Her mother, Elizabeth, was considered “the finest cook in the South” and a very outspoken woman.
- She was 5ft tall.
- She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
- At the age of 67, she ran for the Illinois Senate, finishing last. This made her one of the first black women to run for public office in the United States.
- She was the first black female probation officer in Chicago.
- She collaborated with Susan B. Anthony on the suffrage campaign. Wells also took part in the 1913 Suffrage March in Washington D.C. and refused to step aside because of her race.
- A women’s initiative organizes an annual #IdaTrek of 2-miles walk through the Bronzeville community, Chicago.
- Together with Jane Addams, the two fought the establishment of racially segregated schools in Chicago.
- She helped to open Chicago’s first kindergarten for black children.
- On February 2019 Chicago renamed Congress Parkway as Ida B. Wells Drive, the city’s first major street named for a black woman.