Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida Bell Wells was born a slave on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi, to James and Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bell (Warrenton) Wells, the daughter of a Native American father and slave mother. Ida B. Wells died in 1931. After emancipation, Lizzie and james continued to work for their former owner as a cook and carpenter respectively. The oldest in a family of four boys and four girls, Ida acquired from her parents a love of liberty and self-sufficiency that characterized her life. She attended Shaw University (later Rust College) in Holly Springs, and, after her move to Memphis,Tennessee, she attended summer sessions at Nashville's Fisk University.

At the age of seventeen, after her parent's death, Ida assumed the responsibility of rearing her siblings. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, she took and passed the Mississippi teachers' exam and taught briefly in Holly Springs. 

In the early 1880s, she moved to Memphis and taught in the rural schools of Shelby County while preparing for the teachers' exam for the Negro public schools of Memphis. In May of 1884, Ida purchased a first-class ticket on a local Memphis-to-Woodstock line. Taking a seat in the white ladies' coach . . . refusing to move to the segregated "smoker" car when so instructed by the conductor. She was ejected from the train . . . by a pack of bullying white men. She subsequently filed suit against the railroad company. In December of 1884, the Memphis circuit court ruled in her favor and awarded her $500 in damages. Ida lost her suit when the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision. 

Ida B. Wells' autobiography, Crusade for Justice, presents an awe inspiring account of her journalistic struggle for the civil and human richts of African Americans. 

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Updated April 1, 2004