Black News and News Makers in History: Ida Bell Wells-Barnett

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett was a teacher, journalist, and newspaper editor and publisher. She was devoted to the fight against social injustices. She is one of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The state of Tennessee honored her among eleven others during their bicentennial celebrations as one of the first civil rights activists. She died March 25, 1931 in Chicago.

Wells was born a slave in Mississippi on July 16, 1862, just months before the Emancipation Proclamation. Her father was a master carpenter, her mother a cook for a household. Education for their seven children was important to them. While away at school and visiting a relative, Wells heard a Yellow Fever epidemic had swept through the south, leaving her parents and her toddler brother dead. She chose to drop out of college to keep the family together, so with the assistance of family, began teaching at a black school as a means of support. During this time, she became interested in racial politics (related to the moment she discovered a $50 a month difference in pay between white and black teachers).

At age 21, she relocated to Memphis to teach and return to complete her college education. She was outspoken about women's rights. In fact, at age 22, she was removed from a train when she refused to give up her seat (71 years before Rosa Parks). Although she won her lawsuit against the railroad, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision.

She wrote weekly articles under the pen name of "Iola" for The Living Way weekly newspaper. Later she held an editorial position at the Evening Star newspaper. At age 27, she became co-owner and editor of the Free Speech and Headlight newspaper where the focus was racial injustice.

At one point, after the lynching of friends in Memphis, she wrote an article for the Free Speech urging boycotts and leaving the city. She continued her crusade even after threats. As a result of the lynchings, she began to investigate the actual reason for lynching, looking at the charges. In 1892, she published a book, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all Its Phases, about her investigative journalist findings. The reason for the lynchings appeared to be related to black economic progress. Because the Free Speech office was destroyed, she began publishing her articles in the New York Age. She, her future husband, and Frederick Douglass organized a boycott of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She decided to stay in Chicago and began writing for the Conservator. She and her future husband would be involved in various projects together. She toured Europe twice campaigning for social justice.

Black news - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Ida Wells the week in Black historyAt age 33, she married Ferdinand L. Barnett, an attorney, assistant state attorney, and editor of Chicago's first black newspaper, the Conservator. She was one of the first women to keep her maiden name, hyphening her name. She was devoted to their four children, but continued to write, march for universal suffrage, and establish or co-founded organizations such as the Women's Era Club (later to be known as the Ida B. Wells Club), the Negro Fellowship League for black men and the NAACP. She was established Chicago's first kindergarten for black children. She remained active in urban reform in the Chicago area. Her autobiography was left unfinished when she died at the age of 68.

She is the subject of a musical drama, Constant Star, which debuted in 2006. A description of the play is quoted, "...A woman born in slavery, she would grow to become one of the great pioneer activists of the Civil Rights movement. A precursor of Rosa Parks, she was a suffragist, newspaper editor and publisher, investigative journalist, co-founder of the NAACP, political candidate, mother, wife, and the single most powerful leader in the anti-lynching campaign in America. A dynamic, controversial, temperamental, uncompromising race woman, she broke bread and crossed swords with some of the movers and shakers of her time: Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frances Willard, and President McKinley. By any fair assessment, she was a seminal figure in Post-Reconstruction America."

On February 1, 1990, the United States Postal Service issued a postage stamp in her honor. And in 2002, she was on a list as one of 100 Greatest African Americans. And, the state of Tennessee honored her among eleven others during their bicentennial celebrations.

Famous quotes: "I'd rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I said." "One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap."

Excerpts frrom: http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/pgs/portraits/Ida_B_Wells.php and Wikipedia.