Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931)


Ida B. Wells-Barnett challenged racial and sexual discrimination through the power of the pen. As a young woman, Wells-Barnett successfully sued the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad for segregating its cars and forcibly removing her from coach to the colored car. In April 1887, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed her earlier victory. Wells-Barnett wrote scathing articles about lynching and other injustices under the pen name “Iola.” After three friends were lynched in 1892, Wells-Barnett wrote an expose about the lynching and urged the black population to leave Memphis; her expose enraged the citizens enough to burn her press and run her out of town.

She settled in Chicago where she met her husband, exposed lynching records, wrote a pamphlet about the exclusion of blacks from meaningful roles at the Worlds Columbian Exposition, started woman’s clubs, founded the Negro Fellowship League, and involved herself in suffrage. She marched in several national suffrage parades, lectured, and founded the first black woman suffrage organization – the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago. Wells-Barnett used her gift of language to challenge discrimination and sexism throughout the United States, revealing injustices and fighting for equality and fairness.


Works Cited:

  • Reprinted from NWHM Cyber Exhibit "Rights for Women"
    Author Kristina Gupta
  • PHOTO: Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division