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People & Events
Ida B. Wells


Ida B. Wells
"Let the Afro-American depend on no party, but on himself for his
salvation" -- Ida B. Wells

A militant, one-woman, anti-lynching crusade, Ida B. Wells endured death threats, the destruction of her business, and a hostile legal system as she fought for justice for African Americans.

Ida B. Wells' career as an activist began in 1884. Just twenty-two, she sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad for failing to provide separate but equal facilities for blacks, winning an initial award of $500 that was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

After gaining prominence as a writer for black church newspapers, Wells took part ownership in a Memphis paper, the "Free Speech and Headlight," in 1889. Under her leadership, the "Free Speech" prospered, delivering an equal rights message to blacks throughout the Mississippi delta.

In 1891 whites in Memphis lynched three black grocery operators, all of whom were Wells' friends. When the "Free Speech" responded by encouraging blacks to boycott white-owned businesses or abandon Memphis altogether, angry whites destroyed the paper's offices and threatened to murder anyone who attempted to resume publication.

Wells retreated to New York, where as part owner of the "New York Age," she continued her crusade. She lectured across the North and in venues as distant as Britain, where her compelling speeches fomented anti-lynching sentiment.

After moving to Chicago, Wells married attorney Ferdinand Lee Barnett, owner of the black newspaper, "The Conservator." She published the first compilations of lynching statistics and risked her life to report firsthand from scenes of racial violence. Wells supported many other political causes as well, founding a community house in Chicago's poorest neighborhood and forming the Alpha Suffrage Group, the first such organization for black women. She died in 1931 at the age of 69.

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