Tag: Ida B. Wells

HISTORY: Movement to Honor Anti-Lynching Crusader and Journalist Ida B. Wells in Chicago is Gaining Momentum, and is ‘Long Overdue’

Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells. (Taylor Glascock for The Washington Post)

Adapted from a story by The Washington Post’s Peter Slevin. via thelily.com

Ida B. Wells, a crusading African American journalist who exposed the crime and shame of lynching and fought for women’s suffrage, spent half her life in Chicago. She died in 1931 after dedicating her life to the battle against racial injustice. Yet her pioneering work is all but unrecognized in Chicago, which has no shortage of statues and monuments to leading white men.

There is the grave marker at Oak Woods Cemetery. It reads BARNETT. Along the bottom, “Crusaders for Justice.” On the left, there is her name: Ida B. Wells, beside her husband’s.

Ida B. Wells's gravesite in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. (Taylor Glascock for The Washington Post)
Ida B. Wells’s gravesite in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. (Taylor Glascock for The Washington Post)

Then, there was a housing project, erected in 1941 and called Ida B. Wells Homes. It grew to 1,662 units, but it did not end well. The project succumbed to neglect and dysfunction before the last building was torn down in 2011, doing no honor to her name.

That’s it.

Michelle Duster, her great-granddaughter, aims to change that. For the past decade, Duster and a few friends have labored, dollar by dollar, to raise $300,000 to build a monument to Wells in Chicago. They’re still barely halfway there, but the word is getting out.

“You can’t just gloss over this history,” said Duster, a writer and lecturer who sees a need for Wells’s example these days. “She not only believed in certain principles and values but she sacrificed herself over and over and over again. She was called fearless. I don’t believe that she had no fear. I believe she had fear and she decided to keep going forward.”

A monument will honor the legendary activist, as well as introduce her to people who aren’t familiar with her place in American history.

People who may know nothing about Ida B. Wells will find things about this extraordinary woman they didn’t know anything about,” said Kirk Savage, an art historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies public memorials.

In 1862, Wells was born in Holly Springs, Miss., a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation. She passed a teacher’s exam at age 16 and taught school. In 1884, after she moved to Memphis, three railroad workers forcibly removed her from a train for refusing to leave a car reserved for white women, even though she had purchased a ticket. She sued and won, only to see the verdict overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Wells began writing newspaper columns and purchased a share of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. When three of her black friends were lynched after opening a grocery store in competition with a white-owned business, she started investigating and challenged the assertion that large numbers of black men were raping white women.

The city of Memphis, she wrote, does not protect an African American “who dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival.” After a mob destroyed the printing presses, she moved for good to Chicago in the early 1890s. There, she married lawyer Ferdinand Barnett, had four children, worked as a probation officer and supported migrants from the South, all the while traveling widely to oppose racial terror.

Wells “challenged every type of convention,” including sexism in the civil rights community and racism in the women’s suffrage movement, New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “She refused to stay in her place at a time when doing something could be debilitating, could be dangerous.”

Hannah-Jones, whose 75,000 Twitter followers see her handle as Ida Bae Wells, also worked to create the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Journalism, designed to increase and elevate investigative work by people of color.

Last month, Hannah-Jones flew to Chicago to help raise money for the Wells monument, which has been a slow-moving project.

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Fearless Journalist And Early Civil Rights Activist Ida B. Wells Honored With Google Doodle for her 153rd Birthday

When Ida B. Wells was 22, she was asked by a conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to give up her seat on the train to a white man. She refused, and the conductor attempted to forcibly drag her out of her seat.  Wells wouldn’t budge.

“The moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand,” she wrote in her autobiography. “I had braced my feet against the seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn’t try it again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him and of course they succeeded in dragging me out.”

The year was 1884 — about 70 years before Rosa Parks would refuse to give up her seat on an Alabama bus.  Wells’ life was full of such moments of courage and principle. Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862, Wells was a vocal civil rights activist, suffragist and journalist who dedicated her life to fighting inequality.

On July 16, Wells’ 153rd birthday, Google honored the “fearless and uncompromising” woman with a Doodle of her typing away on typewriter, a piece of luggage by her side.

“She was a fierce opponent of segregation and wrote prolifically on the civil injustices that beleaguered her world. By twenty-five she was editor of the Memphis-based Free Speech and Headlight, and continued to publicly decry inequality even after her printing press was destroyed by a mob of locals who opposed her message,” Google wrote in tribute of Wells.

The journalist would go on to work for Chicago’s Daily Inter Ocean and the Chicago Conservator, one of the oldest African-American newspapers in the country. As Google notes, she “also travelled and lectured widely, bringing her fiery and impassioned rhetoric all over the world.”

Wells married Chicago attorney Ferdinand Barrett in 1895. She insisted on keeping her own name, becoming Ida Wells-Barnett — a radical move for the time. The couple had four children.  Wells died in Chicago of kidney failure in 1931. She was 68.

Every year around her birthday, Holly Springs celebrates Wells’ life with a weekend festival. Mayor Kelvin Buck said at this year’s event that people often overlook “the historic significance of Ida B. Wells in the history of the civil rights struggle in the United States,” per the South Reporter.

article by Dominique Mosbergen via huffingtonpost.com

Ida B. Wells To Be Honored With Sculpture In Chicago

 

ida-b-wells-ancestor.jpg

CHICAGO (AP) — For six decades, civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells was woven into the fabric of Chicago’s South Side as the namesake of a public housing project.

A Rosa Parks-like figure during her era, the journalist and suffragist was so revered that 1930s leaders put her name on a project that promised good, affordable housing for working class families. Within a few decades, however, the homes deteriorated, growing more violent and becoming riddled with gangs and drugs — not as notorious as the city’s Cabrini-Green public housing high rises or Robert Taylor Homes, but certainly not a monument to Wells’ legacy.

Then, nearly a decade ago, the city tore the Wells housing project down, leaving the activist’s great-granddaughter Michelle Duster and her family worried Wells wouldn’t be remembered at all.

Now, to mark the 150th anniversary of Wells’ birth in 2012, an effort is under way to build a sculpture to honor her legacy at the site of the housing development and renew her relevance for future generations.

“When the housing project was coming down we were like ‘Her name is going to be gone,’” Duster said, sitting in her South Side home, a portrait of her great-grandmother hanging on the wall. “Her name and what she did can’t be lost with the housing project.”

The Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee is seeking $300,000 in donations after commissioning noted Chicago artist Richard Hunt to create the sculpture, which is expected to combine images of Wells with inscriptions of her writings.

While Wells’ name endures on a grade school and a professorship in the city, the monument will aim to reflect the full legacy of a woman who was born into slavery in Mississippi and went on to become a well-respected crusader against injustice and outspoken anti-lynching activist.

Orphaned at age 16, Wells was left to support her five siblings. She became a teacher and moved to Memphis, where she sued a railroad because she wasn’t allowed to sit in the ladies coach. When she later became a journalist, Wells wrote about that incident and the lynchings of three of her male friends.

Her writings enraged others and led to Wells being forced to leave the South. She kept writing and speaking about lynching across the U.S. and England. She died in 1931 and is buried in Chicago.

Planning for the Ida B. Wells Homes started three years after her death, as a project of the Public Works Administration. The homes opened in 1941 and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the complex, with its 1,662 units — more than 860 apartments and nearly 800 row houses and garden apartments.

By the 1990s, the housing complex had fallen to drugs and violence. In an infamous 1994 case, two boys, ages 10 and 11, dropped a 5-year-old boy to his death from a vacant 14-floor apartment. The boys were convicted on juvenile murder charges. The same year two neighborhood teenagers produced an award-winning radio documentary “Ghetto Life 101,” which aired on National Public Radio.

A year later, prosecutors charged seven people with running a cocaine ring out of the Ida B. Wells Homes that authorities say did such booming business drug buyers lined up 50 at a time.

By 2002, the last buildings were torn down in a nationally watched urban renewal plan initiated by then-Mayor Richard Daley that also targeted other housing projects — including Cabrini-Green, which saw the last of its high-rises crumble under wrecking balls earlier this year.

As Wells Homes residents focused on finding new places to live, some also requested something be done in tribute to the activist.

“I want people to remember Ida B. Wells the woman, not Ida B. Wells the housing community,” her great-granddaughter, Duster, said. “Something should be done to remember who she was. I think who she was as a woman got lost when it was attached to the housing projects.”

When the money is raised, that something will be a sculpture in the middle of a large grassy median on 37th Street and Langley Avenue in the historically African-American neighborhood of Bronzeville on the city’s South Side.

The site, across the street from a large park, isn’t far from the 19th-century stone house where Wells lived from 1919 to 1929. The Ida B. Wells-Barnett House is now a National Historic Landmark.

Hunt envisions a sculpture in his metallic, free-form style that will incorporate images and writings of Wells. He said he hopes to convey “what a courageous and intelligent and committed person that she was.”

Carol Adams, president of Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African-American History, said the sculpture will be a lasting monument to Wells and a place where people can learn about her influence. The neighborhood is already home to the Ida B. Wells Preparatory Elementary Academy, and Chicago’s DePaul University has a professorship named for Wells.

“Her name itself just reverberates through the community,” said Adams, who once worked in the Ida B. Wells Homes. “It was her voice, her stance that she took regarding lynching and how she used the media to wage that fight, what that fight meant to us. This was very significant for black people all over the country.”

Duster said the sculpture will “have a lot of meaning” for those who lived in the homes named after her.

“I think they will have a huge sense of pride,” she said. “Those who lived in Bronzeville when the homes were there, it’s a source of pride for our neighborhood. For others it’s a sense of pride in the city of Chicago.”

Mostly though, she said, remembering her great-grandmother will teach a new generation that one person can make a difference and defy the boundaries of society’s expectations based on race, class and gender.

“It’s important to speak up when you feel you’ve experienced something not fair,” Duster said. “Don’t wait for somebody else to say something. That’s one thing Ida did that I think is a legacy. She used her voice and talents to raise consciousness.”

via thegrio.com