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Picture of Ida Bell Wells-Barnett
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett

Ida Bell Wells was a daughter of slaves who had stayed on after emancipation as carpenter and cook for their former owner. By the time she was 14, Wells had completed teacher training at Rust University and was teaching in a rural school for $25 a month.

While teaching near Memphis, Wells bought a half-interest in the Memphis Free Speech. She used the paper to denounce lynchings, and to urge blacks to boycott streetcars and to migrate west. The paper's office was destroyed by a mob in 1882.

After refusing a seat in a Jim Crow car, Wells carried an unsuccessful suit to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1887. Under the pen name of "Iola" she criticized the inadequacy of schools for blacks. The Memphis school board dismissed her from her job in 1891.

In 1895, she married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, editor of the Chicago Conservator. A daughter, Alfreda, published her mother's autobiography with the title, Crusade for Justice.

Wells-Barnett was secretary of the National Afro-American Council in 1898. On February 12, 1909, she signed "The Call to Discuss Means for Securing Political and Civil Equality for the Negro." As a result of that call, the Committee of Forty was formed (including Wells-Barnett). It led directly to the founding of the NAACP on May 12, 1910.

Her phamplets, such as "Southern Horrors. Lynch Law in all Its Phases" (1892) and "A Red Record" (1895) remain powerful documents of the early struggle for justice.

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