Ida B. Wells-Barnett

By Dr. Miriam Decosta Willis and Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray, Jr.

MEMPHIS, TN — Ida B. Wells is nationally recognized as an anti-lynching advocate, a champion of civil rights and women’s suffrage. But in Memphis, she was still just a black woman who was “run out of town for stirring the Negroes up.” 

Her life was threatened and her office on Beale Street destroyed for reporting on the brutal Memphis lynching of three men in 1892: Thomas Moss, a good friend who owned the People’s Grocery, and his business partners, Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell 

Ida B. Wells risked her life to oppose oppression, racism, and violence in America She deserves to be honored for her heroic stand on injustice that inspired change and challenged American societal ailments. 

A place of remembrance for Ms. Wells great work would fulfill our moral and civil duty to keep her life and work ever a light in our children coming up-not only here, but children from around the world. When visitors walk by the memorial on world-class destination, Beale Street, they will walk by the statue of Ms. Wells, and ask, ‘’What is the meaning of this place?” 

And there, the bronze likeness ofMs. Wells in the strength ofher youth when she walked the streets of Memphis will stand as a noble testament that she lived, she loved, and she tried to do what was right in the city she called home. The inscription would tell the saga of her life here in Memphis, and the shame we bear as a city in seeking her life. 

With the memorial to Ida B. Wells we can say to the world, “No, we did not want Ms. Wells here, and we did not appreciate her life and work, but now is a time of repentance and sorrow for the past She will never see it, but her descendants in Chicago can finally experience a sense ofhealing from the deep, historic wound of what was done to Ms. Wells.

A memorial to Ida B. Wells would pay that which we have owed this great woman. Join us in memorializing, repenting, and healing. 

Committee Talking Points

• Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist, activist, and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

• In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism, and violence. 

• As a skilled writer, Wells-Barnett also used her skills as a journalist to shed light on the conditions of African Americans throughout the South.

• Ida Bell Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16th, 1862. She was born into slavery during the Civil War. 

• Once the war ended Wells-Barnett’s parents became politically active in Reconstruction Era politics. Her parents instilled into her the importance of education. 

• Wells-Barnett enrolled at Rust College but was expelled when she started a dispute with the university president. 

• In 1878, a yellow fever epidemic had hit her hometown. The disease took both of Wells-Barnett’s parents and her infant brother.

• Left to raise her brothers and sister, she took a job as a teacher so that she could keep the family together. 

• Eventually, Wells-Barnett moved her siblings to Memphis, Tennessee. There she continued to work as an educator.

• In 1884, Wells-Barnett filed a lawsuit against a train car company in Memphis for unfair treatment. She had been thrown off a first-class train, despite having a ticket. 

 • After the lynching of one of her friends, Wells-Barnett turned her attention to white mob violence. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns in local newspapers. 

• Her exposure about an 1892 lynching enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis. After a few months, the threats became so bad she was forced to move to Chicago, Illinois.

• In 1895, Wells-Barnett married famed African American lawyer Ferdinand Barnett. Together, the couple had four children. 

• Wells-Barnett traveled internationally, shedding light on lynching to foreign audiences. 

• Abroad, she openly confronted white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching. Because of her stance, she was often ridiculed and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations in the United States. Nevertheless, Wells-Barnett remained active in the women’s rights movement.

• She was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club which was created to address issues dealing with civil rights and women’s suffrage. 

• Although she was in Niagara Falls for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her name is not mentioned as an official founder. 

• Late in her career Wells-Barnett focused on urban reform in the growing city of Chicago. 

• She died on March 25th, 1931.

Ida B. Wells Time Line

• 1862 Born July 16th in Holly Springs, MS.

1876 Ida B. Wells assumed custody of her siblings after the death of her parents and youngest siblings at the cause of the yellow fever epidemic. She managed to continue her education at Rust College.  

• 1882 She moved with her sisters to Memphis to live with her aunt.  She later continued her education at Fisk.  

She began teaching at Woodstock School in Shelby County making $25.00 per month. 

• 1884 Ida Wells began her crusade against race/gender injustices. She filed a successful lawsuit against the Chesapeake People and Ohio Railroad Company for forcing her off the train when she refused to give up her seat to a white woman.

• 1886 She taught at Grant School.

• 1889 Wells began a partnership with the owner of the “Free Speech and “Headlights.”  Rev. Nightingales was the Pastor of Beale Street Baptist Church.  The paper became such a financial success, Wells was able to resign from teaching and become a full time journalist. 

• 1892 Three of Wells friends were lynched: Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and (William) Henry Stewart.  These men are owners of a grocery store at Walker and Mississippi in South Memphis.  A group of angry white men broke in.  When Ida got the news, she took out her pen and exposed this tragic miscarriage of Justice.  Her office was destroyed and threats against her life were issued.  She never returned.  

• 1893 (1893-1894) Wells spent time in England and many American Cities exposing the horrors of lynching on her anti-Lynching crusade. 

• 1895 Ida B. Wells published the “Red Record”, a statistical analysis of lynching.  

Ida B. Wells married Attorney F. L. Barnett in Chicago. Attorney Barnett was also editor for the Conservative, a Black Newspaper.  

• 1906 Ida B. Wells Barnet joined William E. B. Dubois and others to establish the foundation of the NAACP, the Niagara Movement. 

• 1909 The Niagara Movement evolved to become the National Association for the advancement of Colored People (NAACP) 

• 1930 Ida B. Wells Barnett offered herself as a candidate to serve in the Illinois State Legislature.  This run for public office made history.  She was the first Black Woman to run for public office in the USA. 

• 1931 Ida B. Wells Barnett passed away in Chicago, leaving a legacy of fighting injustices. She was 69.

• 1987 A portrait of Ida Wells was hung in City Hall, December 16 at 3:00 pm – Mayor Dick Hackett and the community relations committee. 

• 1990 Ida B. Wells was honored by the US Postal Service with a commemorative stamp.  The ceremony was held at the Beale Street Baptist Church on February 3. Beale Street Baptist as the unofficial post office for the many Blacks in the Beale Street area.