Ida Bell Wells was a famous African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement.
Born a slave in 1862, Ida was the oldest daughter of James and Lizzie Wells. The Wells family, as well as the rest of the slaves of the Confederate states, were decreed free by the Union about six months after Ida’s birth thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation. Her father, James, was involved with the Freedman’s Aid Society and helped start Shaw University, a school for the newly freed slaves (now Rust College) and served on the first board of trustees.
Ida B. Wells established several civil rights organizations. In 1896, she formed the National Association of Colored Women. After brutal assaults on the African-American community in Springfield, Illinois in 1908, Wells sought to take action. The following year, she attended a special conference for the organization that would later become known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and she is considered a founding member of the NAACP. Working on behalf of all women, Wells, as part of her work with the National Equal Rights League, called for President Woodrow Wilson to put an end to discriminatory hiring practices for government jobs. Wells was a skilled and persuasive rhetorician and traveled internationally on lecture tours.
Ida B. Wells died on March 25, 1931 at the age of 68 in Chicago. She left behind an impressive legacy of social and political heroism. She once said, “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”
In 1941 the Public Works Administration built a Chicago Housing Authority public housing project in the Bronzeville and named it the Ida B. Wells Homes in her honor. Her former home, located at 3624 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, is a National Historic Landmark.
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