When civil rights crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett died in 1931, the Chicago Defender described her as elegant, striking, and always well groomed . . . regal though somewhat intolerant and impulsive. Throughout Wells-Barnetts career as a journalist, social-political organizer and suffragist, she worked with great fervor to end discrimination based on gender and race.
Wells-Barnett was born a slave on July 16, 1862 in Holly Springs, Miss.
Her father, James Wells, was a skilled carpenter and her mother, Lizzie Warrenton was a cook.
In 1878, Wells parents and her youngest brother, Stanley died in a yellow fever epidemic. At 16 years of age, Wells-Barnett was left to care for five younger siblings. As a result, she stop[ed attending Shaw University and got a certification as a teacher.
Soon after, Wells-Barnett moved to Memphis to work as an educator.
A Court Battle
In 1884, Wells-Barnett sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad after being forcibly removed from the train because she refused to move to a segregated car. She sued on the grounds that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 banned discrimination based on race, creed, or color in theaters, hotels, transportation and public facilities. Although Wells-Barnett won the case on the local circuit courts and was awarded $500, the railroad company appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
In 1887, the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the lower courts ruling.
Although Wells-Barnett lost the appeal against the railroad company, her experiences as an prompted her career in journalism. Soon, she was writing articles that appeared in The Living Way, a weekly newspaper under the pen name, Iola.
By 1889, Wells-Barnett resigned from her teaching position and became part owner of the African-American newspaper Free Speech and Headlight. Wells-Barnetts partner was Reverend R. Nightingale, the pastor of Beale Street Baptist Church. Urging the congregation and other community members to subscribe to the publication, Wells-Barnett and Nightingale became