A pioneering African-American journalist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the 1890s is celebrated on her birthday with a Google Doodle.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett would have turned 153 on July 16. She was a writer and editor, a suffragist and an early leader in the civil rights movement.
“We salute Ida B. Wells with a Doodle that commemorates her journalistic mettle and her unequivocal commitment to the advancement of civil liberties,” Google says.
Wells-Barnett is also known for her civil rights rally cry, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Was Born As a Slave in Mississippi Just Before Emancipation
Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862, just before President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, as the daughter of slaves. Her parents died when she was young, and she was raised by her aunt in Memphis, according to Biography.com.
She was married to Ferdinand Barrett, a prominent Chicago attorney, in 1895. She kept both her name and took his, becoming Ida B. Wells-Barrett. She is one of the first American women to keep her own last name.
She died in Chicago of kidney disease in 1931.
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2. She Refused to Give Up Her Seat to a White Man While on a Train in Memphis
Wells-Barnett was asked in 1884 by a conductor on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company in Memphis to giver up her seat to a white man, according to article about her life posted on Duke University’s website. She refused.
She wrote in her autobiography:
I refused, saying that the forward car [closest to the locomotive] was a smoker, and as I was in the ladies’ car, I proposed to stay. . . [The conductor] tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand. I had braced my feet against the seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn’t try it again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him and of course they succeeded in dragging me out.
3. She Began Writing About Civil Rights Issues After The Incident on the Train & Led Anti-Lynching Crusades
After her experience on the train, Wells-Barnett began writing about race issues, civil rights and politics in the South,according to Biography.com. Her writing was published in several black newspapers and periodicals.
She eventually became the editor and owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Highlight by the time she was 25.
Wells crusaded against lynching, and in 1898, after the lynching of the U.S. Postmaster of Lake City, South Carolina, she wrote to President Woodrow Wilson to call for a federal crime against the brutal and racist attacks, according to The Clarion-Ledger newspaper.
“Nowhere in the civilized world save the United States of America do men, possessing all civil and political power, go out in bands of 50 and 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death a single individual, unarmed and absolutely powerless,” she wrote. “We refuse to believe this country, so powerful to defend its citizens abroad, is unable to protect its citizens at home.”
4. She Helped Start Early Civil Rights Organizations
Wells-Barnett started some of the earliest civil rights organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women in 1896, according to Biography.com.
In 1908 she attended a conference for the organization that would become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and is considered one of the NAACP’s founders. But she did cut ties from the organization in later years, saying she felt that it lacked action-based initiatives.
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5. Her Work Has Been Cited As an Example for Today’s Civil Rights Activists
Wells-Barnett has been seen as an inspiration for generations of civil rights activists who continue to fight for equality for African-Americans. After taking down the Confederate Flag from outside the Statehouse in South Carolina in what many called a heroic move, Bree Newsome tweeted about Wells: