July 16: The Honorable Ida B. Wells Was Born Today in 1862

1 Posted by - July 16, 2020 - On This Date

By Jonathan P. Hicks

Photo credits: Photo12/UIG/Getty Images

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was one of the most outspoken leaders of the civil rights movement at the end of the 19th century and the 20th century. She was a staunch crusader against lynching. She was active in women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movements and established a number of notable women’s organizations.

When a train conductor ordered Wells-Barnett to give up her seat and move to the smoking car, she refused — 71 years before Rosa Parks showed similar resistance on a bus. The conductor and two men dragged her out of the car. When she returned to Memphis, she hired an African-American attorney to sue the railroad. From then on, she was active in civil rights.

Wells-Barnett became a public figure in Memphis when she wrote a newspaper article for The Living Way, a Black church weekly, about her treatment on the train. When her lawyer was paid off by the railroad, she hired a white attorney. She won her case later that year when the local circuit court granted her a $500 settlement.

In the years that followed, she became well known as a journalist (she was the first Black woman to be a paid correspondent in Europe), editor and, with her husband, newspaper owner Ferdinand L. Barnett, an early leader in the civil rights movement. She died in 1931.

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