It is almost impossible to describe the amazing life of Ida B. Wells-Barnett in a short biography. She was an early leader in the civil rights movement and a strong voice in bringing equality and justice to the African-American community.

Born into slavery, Ida became one of the first civil rights activists, and a leader in women’s suffrage. She is widely known for her documentation of lynching, proving it was a way to control and punish blacks. She was co-founder of the NAACP, a political candidate, wife, mother and the single most powerful leader in the anti-lynching campaign.

Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus 71 years after Ida Bell showed similar resistance on the train. The conductor told her to move, but Ida refused, whereupon two men and the conductor dragged her out of the car. Ida sued the railroad and won, but the decision was later over-turned.

In March 1892, violence became the norm. Three of Ida’s friends owned a small grocery that was doing quite well. A mob invaded the store and during an altercation three white men were shot. The owners of the grocery store were arrested and jailed. Later a large lynch mob stormed the jail and the three men were killed.

In 1895, Wells married Ferdinand Barnett, setting an early precedent, by being one of the first married women to keep her own last name. The couple had four children. Wells continued her research on lynching, publishing “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law In All Its Phases,” documenting her research on lynching. Having examined many accounts of lynching based on alleged rape of white women, she concluded that rape was used as an excuse to hide the real reason for lynchings: black economic progress.

Ida Wells was a great pioneer activist in the Civil Rights Movement. She was a suffragist, newspaper editor, publisher, and investigative journalist, co-founder of the NAACP, wife, mother and a dynamic controversial, temperamental uncompromising woman. She broke bread and crossed swords with the major movers and shakers of her time. Throughout her life, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was militant in her demands for equality and justice and insisted that the African-American community win justice through its own efforts. She pushed ahead despite every obstacle and we give honor to this extraordinary and historically remarkable woman.


Do you appreciate hearing real stories like this from real women? There’s strength and support in numbers —join Plaid for Women to connect with real women just like you!