MAY 4, 1884
Crusading journalist Ida B. Wells, an African-American native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, was riding a train from Memphis to Woodstock, Tennessee, where she worked as a teacher, when a white railroad conductor ordered her to move to another car. She refused.
When the conductor grabbed her by the arm, “I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand,” she wrote. The conductor got help from others, who dragged her off the train.
In response, she sued the railroad, saying the company forced Black Americans to ride in “separate but unequal” coaches. A local judge agreed, awarding her $500 in damages. But the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed that ruling three years later. The decision upended her belief in the court system.
“I have firmly believed all along that the law was on our side and would, when we appealed it, give us justice,” she said. “I feel shorn of that belief and utterly discouraged, and just now, if it were possible, would gather my race in my arms and fly away with them.”
Wells knew about caring for others. At age 16, she raised her younger siblings after her parents and a brother died in a yellow fever epidemic. She became a teacher to support her family.