It looked rather unremarkable, just one short paragraph tucked at the bottom of Page 1 with the headline “Ida Wells Married.”
Yet the wedding announcement, published in The New York Times in 1895, was anything but unremarkable. That the nuptials of a black woman, born into slavery 33 years earlier, could make the front page of The Times, speaks to a woman who was, by definition, remarkable.
By the time Ms. Wells married Ferdinand L. Barnett in Chicago, she had risen from being orphaned as a child to one of the most forceful voices against the lynchings of black Americans. A muckraking journalist, she investigated the true motivation behind a vicious lynching in Memphis — a white businessman’s retaliation against a successful black store. In 1892, she was run out of the city, after she wrote about her discovery that white mobs often murdered black men under accusations of rape to cover up consensual sex between white women and black men.
At a time when women still did not have the vote and black Americans were fighting for basic civil rights, Ms. Wells, outspoken and passionate, refused to live within the roles defined for people like her. Three decades before Rosa Parks was born, Ms. Wells was arrested after refusing to give up her seat in a whites-only railroad car and then took her case all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court, where she lost
And this all happened before she was married. Her anti-lynching campaign (which would later be taken up by the NAACP she helped to found) was waged before, during, and after her wedding and giving birth to children.