Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells Barnett was born a slave in Holly Springs, MS, before the close of the Civil War on July 16, 1862. Her family had a strong faith in education. She was orphaned at age 14 when her parents died, victims of the Yellow Fever Epidemic. For more than forty years, Ida B. Wells was one of the most fearless and one of the most respected women in the United States.

She was also one of the most articulate. She received her education at Shaw University (Rust College) and early training there. When Ida left Holly Springs, she was armed with values, dedication, and drive that she received in Holly Springs. She journeyed throughout the United States fighting for civil and women's rights.

After losing her teaching job due to her critical editorials of inadequate African-American schools, she became part owner of the Memphis paper, Free Speech and Headlight. Three financially independent black men were lynched because their business was in competition with a white business. Ida was furious and ran a series of editorials blasting whites for lynching blacks because of their financial independence. Her paper was burned and she was run out of town. Her life was threatened if she ever returned to the South.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett helped to form many important groups, including: the Niagara Movement in 1905 in Niagara Falls, Ontario; the National Association of Colored Women; the Ida B. Wells Club; the Negro Fellowship League; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Ida moved to Chicago in 1893. In 1895 she married Ferdinand Barnett, a lawyer and founder of the Chicago Conservator. She and her husband teamed up and fought for Black civil rights. She also continued her fight against lynching. Ida B. Wells-Barnett died on March 25, 1931 in Chicago of uremic poisoning.

Source: The Wells Family Art Gallery; The South Reporter, Holly Springs, MS; and Profiles of Great African Americans, 1996.

For more information: Ida B. Wells Organization

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