IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT
Ida B. Wells-Barnett is first among many. She was a civil servant and fought injustices amongst the black community. Ida was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862. There she witnessed the Civil War and the dramatic changes it brought to her life. During Reconstruction she found possession of previously unheard-of freedoms, her civil rights. The most dramatic change was the institution of schools for the education of blacks. The establishment of the Freedman’s Aid Society founded by Shaw University, later renamed Rust College, and was where Ida attended classes. Ida possessed an interest in school, and she quickly worked her way through every book in the Rust College library. At an early age she demonstrated leadership and a strong liking to journalism. Growing up in Memphis opened opportunities for Ida to further her education at LeMoyne Institution and Fisk University. Her impact among the Negro community was first felt in May 1884. On her way to work, Ida boarded her usual seat on the first-class ladies coach, she was asked by the conductor to move to the forward car, which was a smoker. Wells refused, got off the train, returned to Memphis, and filed suit against the Chesapeake, Ohio, and SouthWestern Railroad Company for refusing to provide her the first-class accommodations for which she paid. In December, 1884 the Memphis Circuit Court ruled in her favor and awarded her $500 in damages. The reaction within the white community was expressed in the Memphis Appeal, “Darky Damsel Gets Damages” (Klots, 32) Although her success was short lived when the company appealed the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which reversed the decision.
Wells-Barnett’s willingness to use the courts to challenge Jim Crow laws was well ahead of her time. Using her forceful pen to write of her experience and outcome soon led her to writing regularly for the black press throughout the country. Ida gained a reputation for fearlessness because of her militant opinions she openly expressed in print. Through her writings she was able to influence the black community, nonetheless educate them and sympathizers of injustices against them. The impact of Ida B. Wells-Barnett was felt within the Negro community through her anti-lynching crusade, journalistic writings, and prominent organizations.
With the sharpness of her pen, Ida raised the battle cry against the American “national crime” of lynching. Infuriated by the Memphis lynching in 1892, which involved a close friend; Ida expressed her grief in an editorial in the local black newspaper, Free Speech:
“The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are outnumbered and without arms…There is therefore only one thing left we can do; save our money and leave town which will neither...