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Ida B Wells

Ida B Wells-Barnett
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

Ida Bell Wells (1862-1931) was born a slave. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed around six months after her birth, but she still grew up in the heavily prejudiced Mississippi of that time. Her parents were active with the Republican Party during Reconstruction as well as with local colleges. When Ida was 16 her parents both died in a yellow fever outbreak, but she was able to convince a local school that she was 18 and found herself employed as a teacher.

In 1884, Wells’ activism began in earnest when she was forcibly removed from the first class seat she had purchased on a train to the colored-only car. She sued the railroad and won, but the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the decision. This injustice led her to begin writing about race and politics in the South. She was also a teacher during this time, but her outspokenness of the conditions within the black-only schools led to her dismissal.

In 1892 a brutal lynching of three African-American men in Memphis led her to write a series of editorials blasting the fact that lynchings were legal in the United States. One editorial in particular led a mob of local whites to ransack the newspaper and burn the printing press. Wells was in New York at the time, but was told she would be killed if she ever returned to Memphis. She stayed in the North and continued to write about lynchings.

In 1893 she began lecturing abroad about the state of America and its race relations, and published her examination of lynchings, ‘A Red Record’. Ida married Ferdinand Barnett in 1895, thereafter known as Ida B Wells-Barnett. She began to lobby and directly protest lynchings, first to President William McKinley and later Woodrow Wilson in regards to hiring practices for government jobs. In 1896 she formed the national Association of Colored Women, and was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.

Born a slave, freed, got her education, and spent her life fighting injustice. We know the origin stories of all kinds of fictional superheroes, but this sure sounds like the origin and life of a real hero.