Black History Month: Ida B. Wells

71 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a woman named Ida B. Wells bit a train conductor.

She was born a slave in 1862, and by 1882 she was a teacher, enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville.

In 1884, Ida bought a first class ticket on a train from Memphis to Nashville.

The train conductors told her to get out of her seat and go to the “black car”.

She refused. When the conductors forcibly removed her from her seat, she bit one of them on the hand.

Ida sued the railroad, and won $500 in a circuit court. The Tennessee Supreme Court then overturned the decision.

Fueled by the injustice of this, Ida began to write about segregation and racism in the South. She worked her way to owning three newspapers. She continued teaching, and was fired from her job in 1891 for speaking out against the segregation of schools.

Ida kept writing.

She uncovered the true scale of the widespread practice of lynching, and she published it. A mob stormed her newspaper office and destroyed everything. Ida was told she’d be killed if she kept writing.

She didn’t stop.

Ida joined the women’s rights movement of the 1920s, but found that even there, racism and discrimination held sway. In 1931, she was told that the black members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association would have to march separately from the white members. Ida refused, and slipped into her state’s white delegation at the start of the parade.

Ida worked for equal access to education, women’s rights, and the end of segregation until her death in 1931. 

I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.
— Ida B. Wells

Shannon Murphree, English Teacher