Ida Bell Wells was born a slave in Mississippi. Her family was freed from slavery shortly after her birth by the Emancipation Proclamation.
On a train ride from Memphis to Nashville in 1884, for which she had bought a first class ticket, Wells was asked to move to the car for African Americans. Her refusal to do so led her to sue the railroad, a case she won, but which was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. This was the event that marked a turning point in Wells' life that initiated her in civil rights and women’s rights activism.