Social Reformer. A founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she was born into slavery, with her family being emancipated in 1865. Her mother, a cook, and her father, a carpenter, were able to provide a good life for their children. When she was sixteen, a yellow fever epidemic claimed her parents and younger brother. At the time it was decided by the family that Ida and her five brothers and sisters would be separated to live with various family members. Heartbroken at the idea of her family splitting up, she quit high school and got a job as a teacher at a small school for African Americans and cared for her siblings. Fiercely independent, she was a free thinker and often debated with her family and friends on social issues. In 1880 she moved to Memphis, Tennessee to attend Fisk University, where her views only became stronger and she more outspoken in regard to the Women's Suffrage movement. Her first public clash was in 1884 in Memphis she led a campaign against segregation on the local railway. After being forcibly removed from a whites only carriage she successfully sued the Chesapeake, Ohio and South Western Railroad Company. However, this was overturned three years later by a ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court. In 1884 she began teaching in Memphis, and wrote civil rights articles for local newspapers. She fervently and openly accused the Memphis Board of Education for underfunding African American schools, and as a result of her outspokenness, she was fired from her job. In 1889 Wells became a partner in the small newspaper "Free Speech and Headlight." She was partnered with the Reverend R. Nightingale, who was the pastor of Beale Street Baptist Church. He "encouraged" his large congregation to subscribe to the paper and it was very successful. In her articles she exposed such issues as the lack of available education and the civil rights strife in the Black Community. As an investigative reporter she looked into a rash (728) of lynchings in the Memphis area. Some of these acts were meted out as "justice" for such inconsequential crimes as shoplifting and public drunkenness. In March of 1892, three African American businessmen were lynched in Memphis. When Ida Wells wrote an article condemning the act, a white mob destroyed her printing press. The mob also declared that they intended to lynch her but fortunately she was visiting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the time. Never able to return to Memphis, she refused to be set back by these events, and she toured Great Britain and Europe in support of the Women's Movement and domestically lecture to others in black communities against "Jim Crow" laws and lynching. She was also recruited to write for a progressive newspaper in New York City, New York called "The New York Age". She married Ferdinand Barnett in 1894, who founded "The Conservator" which was the first African American newspaper in Chicago. Her involvement in politics continued and she wrote pamphlets such as "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law" and "Mob Rule in New Orleans." In 1901 Ida Wells Barnett published the book, "Lynching and the Excuse for It." She argued that the aim of lynching was to intimidate blacks from becoming involved in politics and therefore maintaining white supremacy in the South. In 1909 she helped found the NAACP. At the first conference of the NAACP she successfully campaigned with the organization to resolve to make lynching a federal crime. Barnett was an early supporter of the Women's Suffrage movement. Ida created a stir in 1913 when she refused to march at the back with other black delegates during a demonstration organized by the National American Women's Suffrage, event leader Alice Paul allowed Barnett to March with her and the other white suffragettes. During World War I, now writing for the "Chicago Tribune," she rallied for racial equality in the United States Army. She publicized the occurrence of senseless executions of black soldiers for minor offenses while fighting for their country. In 1928, at her retirement, she wrote her autobiography entitled "Crusade for Justice." In 1930, she became disgusted by the nominees of the major parties to the state legislature, so she decided to run for the Illinois State legislature, which made her one of the first Black women to run for public office in the United States. The NAACP today is one of the largest civil rights organizations in the United States. She was inducted in the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1988.
Bio by: R. Digati