When it comes to badass do-gooders, Ida B. Wells would be right up there with the best of them. From supporting her five younger siblings, to standing up to oppression in every sphere of her life to running for public office, Ida B. Wells was a force of nature.
Born into slavery in the months before President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in Confederate territories in 1862, Wells became a journalist, editor, suffragist and leader in the civil rights movement.
When Wells was just 16-years-old, her parents and youngest brother died in a yellow fever epidemic, leaving her and her five siblings orphaned. Desperate to keep her younger siblings together as a family, she took a job as a teacher in a black primary school to provide for them, relying on her grandmother and other relatives to care for them while she was working.
In 1884, a train conductor ordered Wells to give up her seat in the first class ladies carriage and move to the crowded smoking car. In a show of determination that foreshadowed Rosa Parks’ historic act of defiance many years later, she refused. She was dragged from her seat, but later sued the railroad company. She won. The railroad appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed the ruling, ordering Wells to pay court costs.
Later, she became a journalist and an editor. Prompted by the lynching of her friends, Wells began to use her work as a writer to shine a light on the killings of black people by vicious white lynch mobs.
She was one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was one of the first black women to run for public office.
Here are just a few examples of her infinite wisdom:
“No nation, savage or civilized, save only the United States of America, has confessed its inability to protect its women save by hanging, shooting, and burning alleged offenders.”
“Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.”
“What becomes a crime deserving capital punishment when the tables are turned is a matter of small moment when the negro woman is the accusing party.”