My great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, made an impact on our country and was well-known during her lifetime for her activism regarding a variety of causes for African American and women’s rights. In Chicago, for almost 60 years the name Ida B. Wells was associated with the Southside housing community which was named after her. When the housing community was eliminated in 2002 there was concern that the legacy she left behind would fade into memory.
In today’s hyper technology-driven world things become outdated within a few days, so what happened a century ago can seem like the stone age. But, even though she died in 1931, Ida B. Wells is someone the country must never forget. Yes, the housing “projects” named after her are gone, but the former residents and a group representing different organizations formed a committee to honor her, the work she did, and life she lived in another form – a monument.
The contributions Ida B. Wells made to this country, is something that should make this country proud. In order to make sure that future generations of students, tourists and native Chicagoans alike remember this great woman, the Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee, has commissioned a monument to be created by world-renowned sculptor, Richard Hunt, a Chicago native, who is known for his abstract, interpretive, soaring and breath-taking public pieces. It will be located in Bronzeville at 37th & Langley as one of a handful of monuments in the country that captures the life and work of an African American woman, and the first in Chicago.
The life of Ida B. Wells is extraordinary. She was born a slave in Holly Springs, MS on July 16, 1862 and moved to Memphis, TN where she worked as a teacher, journalist, and anti-lynching crusader. After her printing press was destroyed in 1892 in response to her writing about lynching, she spent time in New York City, then traveled to England to speak about injustice taking place in the United States. She then settled in Chicago where she married Ferdinand L. Barnett and had four children. While juggling motherhood, she was involved in the suffrage movement, became a community organizer, and was an early pioneer in the social work field.
With her words, Ida B. Wells documented the unfair treatment she experienced on a train in Tennessee as a result of Jim Crow laws. From her perspective as a teacher, she exposed the inequality in the education system. As a woman who lost three close friends to murder at the hands of a mob, she documented in great detail the horrors of lynching. Through her writing she influenced thousands of disenfranchised people to pack up all of their belongings and move from Memphis, Tennessee to Oklahoma in order to enjoy a more equitable life. She convinced thousands to boycott white-owned businesses, in order to cripple a system that humiliated and ostracized them, based only on the color of their skin.
During her career, she was co-owner of two newspapers, The Memphis Free Speech and The New York Age. After she moved to Chicago in 1895, she became full-owner of The Conservator, which was the first Black newspaper in Chicago. She lived, worked and raised her family in the Bronzeville neighborhood (formerly known as the Blackbelt). The last home that she and her husband shared, located at 3624 S. King Drive, is now a national landmark.
Ida B. Wells spent her life fighting for justice. She spoke out about the challenges that black women faced. She used her writing, speaking and organizing skills to do the same type of work that Black Woman’s Blueprint is doing today. She fought to secure the social, political and economic equality in American society. She, like BWB fought to develop a culture where women of African descent are fully empowered and where gender, race and other disparities are erased. She, like BWB, conducted research and documented the incidents of injustice and left a record for generations after her to know the truth. She said and truly believed that “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” She wrote numerous articles and several pamphlets to document the extraordinary level of violence and injustice that was experienced by the African American community. The violation of black women by the power structure, in addition to the brutalization of black men in the name of protecting white women, was something she shed the light of truth upon.
My great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, died over eight decades ago after spending her entire adult life fighting for our rights and dignity. It was an honor for me to participate in the BWB Truth and Reconciliation Commission program in 2016 – 85 years after her death. The fact that three generations and several decades later, Black women are still fighting for equality is disheartening, yet empowering. In these United States of America, almost 160 years after slavery ended we still have yet to achieve truth, justice, healing and reconciliation.
Creating this Ida B. Wells monument now, in 2018 is extraordinarily important. The contributions that our ancestors made to this country are either being eliminated from the history books or were never put in them to begin with. The terror and horror and extreme injustice that we went through as a people is being sanitized, glossed over, or framed as being somehow inherent to who we are as a people. Within the current social environment our humanity, dignity, intelligence, and right to speak our minds is under assault. African Americans have been in this country for 400 years. We literally built this country and have been part of all of the systems and industries that have made this country what it is.
It is time for African American women to be recognized and celebrated in public art form. It is time for the contributions we have made and continue to make to this country to be given the attention it deserves. It is time for all who live in this country, as well as tourists, to see and learn that our foremothers and we are important to the American fabric. It is time for us as a people to take control of our stories and create our own projects and narratives. We can all get involved in making sure that who we are and what we represent is dignified, by first dignifying, honoring and supporting ourselves.
My great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, did her part to fight for our rights and tell our stories and experiences. She spent her life fighting for our rights. She made history. Now, we can make sure our history is documented and celebrated. Only $200,000 needs to be raised to make this historic monument a reality. That translates into 5,000 people donating $40 each.
You can all be part of history and donate to this make this project happen now. Donate Today. Your tax deductible $40 donation will make this monument a reality. Go to www.idabwellsmonument.org and contribute right now. You can print out the receipt and show your children and grandchildren that you were part of making this monument happen. This national monument will be built right down the street from where Ida and her family lived. The goal is to raise the needed money by July 16, 2018 which would be Ida B. Wells’ 156th birthday. You can give her a fitting birthday gift of a monument to honor her. www.idabwellsmonument.org.
This monument is important. We are important. Our history is important. And we as a community have the opportunity to be part of telling our own stories. Be part of history today and help make this monument a reality.
Michelle Duster is an author, speaker and college writing professor. She has written, published and contributed to a total of nine books, two of which include the writings of her great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells. She works tirelessly on projects to promote the contributions that African Americans and women have made to the United States. Among her many activities, she is a member of the Ida B. Wells.
MAIL CHECKS TO: MAIL CHECKS TO:
Ida B. Wells Monument Fund
c/o Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation
P.O. Box 19579 Chicago, IL 60619
Commemorative Art Committee that is working to get this monument funded and created in 2018.