Published on 9th March 2021 on the Black Star News
Ida B. Wells-Barnett is best known for bringing international light on the lynching of African Americans in 1890s through her writing and activism. She was born a slave in Mississippi in 1862. At the age of sixteen, her parents died of the yellow fever, leaving her as the primary caregiver to her six siblings. She completed her education at Rust College, where her father had been a trustee, whilst also teaching and taking care of her siblings. In the 1880’s she moved to Memphis, Tennessee.
Wells started protesting the unfair treatment of African Americans due to an inciting incident on a train where she was asked by the conductor to move into the train’s smoking car. She refused on the basis that she had a first-class ticket. She was physically manhandled and taken off the train. In response, Wells hired a lawyer and sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. Her case was successful, and she was awarded $500 in compensation. However, the railroad company appealed the courts’ decision. In 1887, the Supreme Court of Tennessee repealed their judgement and Wells was ordered to pay court fees. After this, Wells began writing under a pseudonym “Iola” for Black newspapers where she challenged Jim Crow laws in the South. She bought shares in the ‘The Free Speech and Headlight’, a Memphis newspaper, and utilised this publication to promote African American Civil rights.
After the lynching of three of her friends because they had challenged white authority or successfully competed against white people in politics or business; Wells published a number of works on this subject, where she raised awareness of the lynching of Black Americans. She received death threats and had to leave the U.S but was determined to continue of campaign. She moved to England where she created the British Anti-Lynching society in 1894. Later on, she moved back to the U.S. and settled in Chicago.