A new monument honoring Ida B. Wells in Chicago
On June 30, an unveiling ceremony for the monument took place in the Chicago area where Ida B. Wells spent much of her life.
Recently, a new monument honoring journalist, educator and activist Ida B. Wells was unveiled in the southside of Chicago.
The monument is officially called “The Light of Truth Ida B. Wells National Monument,” and is located in the Bronzeville community in the southside of Chicago. It was created by African-American abstract sculptor and Chicago artist Richard Hunt.
The name is partially taken from one of Wells’ most famous and well-known quotes during a 1892 speech: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
According to the Chicago Defender, it’s the first monument in the city of Chicago to honor a Black woman, and just the second tribute overall for a Black woman in the city. In 2018, a bronze statue was unveiled in honor of Gwendolyn Brooks, Illinois Poet Laureate and the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize.
At the monument unveiling on Wednesday, June 30 — which had been 13 years in the making — Wells’ great-grandchildren were among many present to talk about the significance of it, as well as the impact of their great-grandmother’s life’s work.
“I truly hope that the monument will be a source of pride for the Bronzeville neighborhood where my great-grandmother lived for over 35 years, as well as the whole city, state, and nation,” Michelle Duster, Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter, told the Chicago Defender.
“Ida B. Wells spent her entire adult life fighting for justice and equality. This awe-inspiring monument … should inspire people to see their own power and continue her work,” she continued.
Wells was one of the most prominent African-American investigative journalists in her time, and one of the early leaders of the civil rights movement for Black people and women in the United States.
Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi during the Civil War in 1862, Wells was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. After losing both her parents and younger brother at the age of 16 as a result of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic — which resulted in approximately 20,000 deaths — Wells worked as a teacher in order to help care for the rest of the family, alongside her grandmother.
She later moved to Memphis, where she continued working as an educator before later becoming the co-owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper.
During the 1890s, Wells began documenting the lynching of African-Americans in the U.S., and came to the conclusion that lynching was a means for White people to terrorize Black people and keep them from attaining economic mobility and wealth.
As threats came as a result of her findings, Wells moved to Chicago, where she spent the last nearly four-decades of her life.
“Most people still don’t know what she did,” Daniel Duster, Wells’ great grandson told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And so the fact that Chicago has decided to honor her... I have a feeling of joy, excitement, appreciation and humbleness.”
Wells is also one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In 1910, she founded and became the first president of the Negro Fellowship League, which was responsible for helping aid newly arrived migrants from the South. In 1913, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first Black suffrage group that worked to advocate for Black women’s right to vote.
Her work would help lead the state of Illinois toward becoming the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment — which gave women the right to vote.
The later portion of Wells’ life was spent focusing on urban reform in the city of Chicago. She passed away in 1931 at the age of 68.
In 2020, Wells was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on lynching.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was also present for the unveiling, credited Wells’ legacy, and stressed the fact that the efforts Wells fought for during her time isn’t over in the present time.
“We also have to strive to live up to her life’s work,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times. “The fight against systemic racism continues. It’s not over. We must continue the work of unmasking and eradicating systemic racism in all of its manifestations. This is the essential fight of our time.”