IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT
Ida Bell Wells,who dedicated her adult life to a suc¬ cessful anti-lynching campaign, was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi.She grew up quickly after losing both her parents when she was only 16. Becom¬ ing the sole parent to her five siblings, she lied about her age and took a job as a teacher, supporting the entire family on $25 a month.
She moved to Mis¬ souri in 1884, contin¬ ued to teach, and began writing for the Living Way and the Memphis Free Speech newspapers. When she was fired from her teaching position for protesting the poor conditions at her school, Wells took what little savings she had and bought part own¬ ership of the Free Speech. Her effective reporting was responsible for increasing subscriptions by 2,000 in the first nine months.
The more Wells learned, the more com¬ mitted she became, and the more enemies she created. When three black men were taken from a Memphis jail and lynched. Wells reported that the men were not perpe¬ trators of a crime, but successful young entrepreneurs who had begun to lure cus¬ tomers away from a white-owned business.
Uncovering the names of the city officials who refused to condemn the lynching, and those who admitted that they were in sup¬ port of it, Wells caused a sensation. Her report was so damning that it convinced black citizens to refuse to use the city’s expensive new street¬ cars as a sign of unified protest, and this boycott nearly broke the streetcar company.
Wells even urged them to leave the city, and over 2,000 peo¬ ple moved north from Memphis in search of a just and safe society.Ida Wells was now a celebrated journalist, and this was only the first of her investigations. She found that 1,217 African-Americans had been lynched between the years of 1890 and 1900. Her famous “Red Record” detailed lynch- ings which occurred in three of those years.
Listing the victims and the official reasons for their murders, the Red Record soon became one of the most shocking docu¬ ments of American history. Here was the proof that all lynchings were not related to crimes. Of the 728 lynchings she investi¬ gated, only one-third of the victims were accused of crimes. Most of these were not even tried in a court of law.
Wells continued her investigation throughout her life. Though she was repeatedly threatened, and her newspaper office was burned to the ground, she con¬ tinued to research case after case from her new home in New York.
She also orga¬ nized women’s clubs and political meet¬ ings with the help of her husband, Ferdi¬ nand Lee Barnett, whom she married in 1895. She supported the need for a nation¬ al group of African-Americans, and was an influential founder of the National Asso¬ ciation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.