Ida Wells-Barnett — A Suffragist and Trailblazer to Remember

Ida Wells-Barnett

Source: Black Media Council

You want to talk about breaking barriers? No one better epitomizes that sentiment than Ida Wells-Barnett, the founder of the first black woman suffrage organization, the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago. Born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells-Barnett challenged sexism and racial discrimination throughout her life.

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As a young woman, Wells-Barnett successfully sued the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad for segregating its cars and forcibly removing her from coach to the colored car. In April 1887, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed her earlier victory. Wells-Barnett wrote scathing articles about lynching and other injustices under the pen name “Iola.” After three friends were lynched in 1892, Wells-Barnett wrote an expose about the lynching and urged the black population to leave Memphis; her expose enraged the citizens enough to burn her press and run her out of town.

She settled in Chicago where she met her husband, exposed lynching records, wrote a pamphlet about the exclusion of black from meaningful roles at the Worlds Columbian Exposition, started woman’s clubs, founded the Negro Fellowship League, and involved herself in suffrage. She marched in several national suffrage parades, lectured, and founded the first black woman suffrage organization – the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago.