Born July 16, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was the product of two slaves, though she eluded enslavement by way of President Abraham Lincoln ratifying the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. She was the eldest of seven — though some sources say eight.
Her parents, James and Elizabeth “Izzy Bell” Wells, were active in the Republican Party during reconstruction. James contributed to the dawn of Shaw University (now Rust College), a school for newly freed slaves, serving on the board of trustees, while also embroiling in the Freedman’s Aid Society.
Wells-Barnett, following suit, also attended Shaw University where she received primal schooling. By 1878, at only 16-years-old, she was dropping out of school on account of her parents and 10-month-old brother, Stanley, dying in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878. With the threat of separation amid the surviving Wells children, Ida B. Wells-Barnett procured a job as a school teacher by lying and saying she was 18, the minimal age for said tutelage — earning a mere $30 a month, compared to her white counterparts at $80 a month. Alongside her aunt, who tended to the children while she was at work, she was able to keep her family together.
In 1882, with her sisters Annie and Lily in tote, Wells-Barnett moved to Memphis, Tennessee to live with an aunt. Two of her brothers, whose names are unknown, found work as carpenters while she continued teaching for a school in Woodstock and studying at Fisk University in Nashville. Roughly two years later during one of her train rides from Memphis to Nashville, Wells encountered a tumult which manifested itself as the ignition to her infamous passion.
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