Born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862 and orphaned at 16, a fiery and fearless Wells dedicated her life to fighting inequality, becoming a civil rights pioneer.
At 22, she was dragged off of a Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company train for refusing to give up her seat to a white man.
She wrote about the ordeal in a newspaper article for a black church weekly, The Living Way, then sued and won. However, it was later appealed and she was ordered to pay court costs.
By 25, she was editor of the Memphis-based Free Speech and Headlight, in which she urged blacks to leave Memphis after the lynching of her three friends.
From there, she began to research and document lynchings, finding they were more often used as “community control” than for punishment of a crime.
She also launched her anti-lynching campaign, bringing it all the way to Britain, where she took on Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) president, Frances Willard for her silence on the issue of lynchings and her racist comments following the passing the 15th Amendment, enabling black men to vote.
In her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, Wells stated that Willard “unhesitatingly slandered the entire Negro race in order to gain favor with those who are hanging, shooting and burning Negroes alive.”