Ida B. Wells-Barnett
(usually known as Ida B. Wells) 1862
Ida B. Wells was a journalist, speaker and activist who fought for equal rights and universal sufferage for Blacks and women. She was especially active in anti-lynching campaigns, and wrote a successful book about the terror of lynching called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. She worked with Jane Addams to block the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago. She was well known among other first-wave feminists like Susan B. Anthony and marched in the famous 1913 march for universal sufferage in Washington D.C. She was one of the founding members of the NAACP, but was excluded from its leadership because of her explicit opposition to the tactics of Booker T. Washington. In 1930 she ran for the Illinois State Legislature, making her one of the first Black women in the US to run for public office.
One of the most famous stories about her tells of how, like Rosa Parks, she once made a dramatic stand when she refused to give up her seat.
In Memphis in 1884 she was asked by the conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to give up her seat on the train to a white man, and to move to the smoking or "Jim Crow" car. At this time (before Plessy vs. Ferguson) the 1875 Civil Rights Act had actually banned discrimination in public transportation, and Wells decided not to move:
I refused, saying that the forward car was a smoker, and as I was in the ladies' car, I proposed to stay. . . He tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand. I had braced my feet against the
seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn't try it
again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him and of
course they succeeded in dragging me out.
Wells hired a lawyer, sued the railroad for discrimination,and won, though the case was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
Though she was born a slave in Mississippi and lived most of her young live in Tennessee, she was eventually forced to leave the South.
In 1892 the owners of People's Grocery Company in Memphis (Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart), were lynched because their successful grocery store was felt to be a threat to competing white businesses. When Wells published strongly worded editorials condemning the men's deaths and the practice of lynching in general her newspaper office was destroyed and she was run out of town, eventually settling in Chicago.