Ida Bell Wells-Barnett

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Wells-Barnett, Ida Bell

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).

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Wells-Barnett, Ida Bell

(1862–1931) civil rights advocate; born in Holy Springs, Miss. Born a slave, she attended Rust College after emancipation and taught school in Memphis, Tenn. (1884–91); she was fired for writings critical of segregated education. In 1892, as part-owner and editor of a Memphis newspaper, she published articles denouncing the lynching of three acquaintances; warned to stay out of town, she went to the Northeast and became a renowned antilynching activist, and she published works on the subject. After her marriage to a Chicago editor and lawyer (1895), she was secretary of the National Afro-American Council (1898–1902) and helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1910)—which she found too conservative. She also campaigned for women's suffrage.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Wells, Ida B. Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B.