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Who was Ida B. Wells, the woman honored in a Google Doodle on Thursday?

By Kristen Root on July 16, 2015

Thursday would be the 153rd birthday of journalist, civil rights activist and suffragette Ida B. Wells. To celebrate and pay tribute to Wells, Google made her the subject of its latest Google Doodle with a charming sketch created by San Francisco-based illustrator Matt Cruickshank, depicting the icon working at her desk behind a typewriter. In its tribute, the search giant said that Wells was “fearless and uncompromising, she was a fierce opponent of segregation and wrote prolifically on the civil injustices that beleaguered her world.”

Wells was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862, just one year before the emancipation proclamation was signed. According to the Huffington Post, in 1884, 70 years before Rosa Parks took her fateful bus ride, Wells was “asked by a conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to give up her seat on the train to a white man.” In her autobiography, Wells wrote, “I refused, saying that the forward car [the “Jim Crow car”] was a smoker, and as I was in the ladies’ car, I proposed to stay.” Wells was eventually dragged from the train, and later sued the railroad. Though she won in a local court, the Supreme Court of Tennessee later reversed the ruling.

According to the Observer, in 1889, while Wells was editor of the Memphis-based Free Speech and Headlight, a close friend of hers was lynched, inspiring her to document lynching in the South, the coverage for which she is arguably most famous.

Photo via Wikimedia
Photo via Wikimedia

Google said she “continued to publicly decry inequality even after her printing press was destroyed by a mob of locals who opposed her message.” In 1894, Wells moved to Chicago to work as a paid correspondent for the Daily Inter Ocean. She ran the Chicago Conservator and married Attorney F. L. Barnett, owner of one of the city’s first black newspapers, in 1895. When the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began in 1909, Wells was one of two African-American women to “sign the call.”

Wells continued a life of activism running for the Illinois State legislature in 1930. Just one year later,  she passed away of kidney failure in Chicago at age 68.

The Huffington Post reports that, every year around Well’s birthday, Holly Springs, Mississippi, holds a weekend festival in celebration of her life. Holly Springs Mayor Kevin Buck told the South Reporter, people often fail to realize “the historic significance of Ida B. Wells in the history of the civil rights struggle in the United States.”