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Meet Ida B. Wells

February 16, 2021

Ida B. Wells was born into slavery during the Civil War. Once the war ended her parents became politically active in Reconstruction era politics. Wells was 16 when her parents and an infant brother died in a yellow fever epidemic. With help from her grandmother, she took on the responsibility of raising her brothers and sister. She took a job as a teacher in order to keep the family together.

In 1884 Wells 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. Although she won the case on the local level, the ruling was eventually overturned in federal court. After the lynching of one of her friends, Wells turned her attention to white mob violence. She became skeptical about the reasons black men were lynched and set out to investigate several cases. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns in local newspapers. Her expose about an 1892 lynching enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis.

Her work included extensive research, publishing, and speaking that addressed lynching in the post-Civil War era. 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. She died in 1931.