Ida B. Wells-Barnett


Born into slavery in Holly Springs Mississippi, just three years before the end of the Civil War, Ida B. Wells-Barnett brought a perspective to the women’s vote movement that on occasion put her at odds with her suffrage sisters. Wells-Barnett did not have the luxury of fighting for just one cause. As a black woman, the urgency of freedom for all people regardless of sex or race was real.

Her parents and one younger brother died of yellow fever in 1878 while she was away visiting her grandparents. Without bitterness, the 16-year-old took on the responsibility of raising her siblings. She supported her family by becoming a schoolteacher and eventually an investigative journalist.

In 1892, Thomas Moss, a black postal worker who also owned a small grocery store, was lynched alongside two of his grocery store employees. Moss was a family friend of Wells-Barnett. The Moss lynching launched Wells-Barnett into the work of advocating for human rights. Her printing press was destroyed as a result of her work as a journalist investigating lynchings. She had to flee her home in Memphis for her own safety.

By the time she became a fighter in the women’s suffrage movement, Wells-Barnett was a seasoned target. Subjected to blatant racism, Wells-Barnett continued to lead despite the ugliness. While living in Chicago in 1913, she formed the Alpha Suffrage Club to help educate black women and help them become more involved in the effort for women’s right to vote.

She traveled to Washington, D.C. to march in the first and largest suffrage parade in 1913. Organizers told her she would not be allowed to march with the Illinois delegation, and that she and the more than 50 black women from the Alpha Suffrage Club would instead have to march in the back so as not to upset the southern marchers. After protesting, Wells-Barnett waited for the parade to begin. When the Illinois delegation passed, Wells-Barnett fell into line with the women she had planned to march beside from the start.  Ida B. Wells-Barnett on that day and for these 100 years, is a definition of perseverance, justice and truth even in the face of adversity.

Dee Dee Bass Wilbon