This Day in Black History: July 16, 1872

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the pioneer African-American journalist, newspaper editor and civil rights leader, was born.

Posted: 07/16/2012 07:00 AM EDT
Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett

(Photo: R. Gates/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was one of the most outspoken leaders of the civil rights movement at the end of the 19th century and the 20th century. She was a staunch crusader against lynching, which was prevalent in those years. She was active in the women's rights and the women's suffrage movements and established a number of notable women's organizations.

When a train conductor ordered Wells-Barnett to give up her seat and move to the smoking car, she refused — 71 years before the activist Rosa Parks showed similar resistance on a bus. The conductor and two men dragged her out of the car. When she returned to Memphis, she hired an African-American attorney to sue the railroad. From then on, she was active in civil rights.

Wells-Barnett became a public figure in Memphis when she wrote a newspaper article for The Living Way, a Black church weekly, about her treatment on the train. When her lawyer was paid off by the railroad, she hired a white attorney. She won her case later that year, when the local circuit court granted her a $500 settlement. In the years that followed, she became well known as a journalist (she was the first Black woman to be a paid correspondent in Europe), editor and, with her husband, newspaper owner Ferdinand L. Barnett, an early leader in the civil rights movement. She died in 1931.

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