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Black History Month


Ex-slave became writer who helped found NAACP

Born during the Civil War, Ida Wells-Barnett came to this world as a child of slavery and left it as a woman of courage, conviction and great compassion for others.

Wells-Barnett was born in the small town of Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862. Armed with their new freedom once the war ended, Wells-Barnett’s parents enrolled their six children in a school for black youngsters.

Wells-Barnett lost both her parents to a yellow fever epidemic in 1878, and she was left to bring up her five younger brothers and sister. She dressed herself up to look older and went hunting for a teaching job.

Wells-Barnett eventually moved to Memphis. During her summer vacations, she attended Fisk University.

One day on a train, Wells-Barnett was told to move from the car where she was to a "Jim Crow" coach just for blacks. She refused and was thrown off the train at the next stop. She took her case to the circuit court and won. She wrote about what had happened to her in a local paper. This was the beginning of her career as a journalist.

Unfortunately, the court’s decision was later reversed. And then something even worse happened, this time to a friend. He and two other black men were murdered, lynched for nothing more than the color of their skin.

Wells-Barnett wrote more articles against lynching. Later she moved to New York where she was in great demand for lectures. She traveled to England and helped found an anti-lynching group there. When she returned to America, Wells-Barnett worked with her soon-to-be husband Ferdinand Lee Barnett, founder of the first black newspaper in Illinois. She was one of two women who took part in the meeting that set up the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, better known as the NAACP.

— By Lizabeth Gray

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