Ida Bell Wells-Barnett

Wells-Barnett, Ida Bell, 1862–1931, African-American civil-rights advocate and feminist, b. Holly Springs, Miss. Born a slave, she attended a freedman's school and was orphaned at 16. She moved (1880) to Memphis, taught in black schools, attended Fisk Univ., and became an editor and writer for two weekly newspapers. In 1884 she challenged railroad segregation, ultimately losing (1887) in Tennessee's state supreme court. Becoming a part owner of and reporter for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight (1889–94), she campaigned against the inferior education available to African Americans. In addition, beginning in 1892, following the murder of a friend by a Memphis crowd, she became famous for her antilynching crusades (see lynching). Later that year a white mob destroyed her newspaper's office and threatened to kill Wells. She subsequently moved to New York, became part owner and writer for the New York Age, and again attacked lynching. Wells was also a strong advocate for women's rights, but differed with many other feminists in her insistence on racial justice. Settling finally in Chicago, she wrote for two newspapers, married lawyer Ferdinand Lee Barnett, wrote a book on lynching (1895), created social programs for young black men and women, and worked to improve race relations in the city.

See her autobiography (1970); T. Harris, ed., The Selected Works of Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1991); M. DeCosta-Willis, ed., The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells (1995); J. Jones-Royster, ed., Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892–1900 (1996); biographies by L. O. McMurry (1999) and P. J. Giddings (2008); studies by M. I. Thompson (1990), L. S. Jimison, ed. (1994), P. A. Schechter (2001), and J. W. Davidson (2007).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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