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Civil Rights Icon, Ida B. Wells, Becomes the First Black Woman to Get a Major Chicago Street Named in Her Honor

Civil Rights Icon, Ida B. Wells, Becomes the First Black Woman to Get a Major Chicago Street Named in Her Honor

Photo: Chicago Tribune 

On Monday, local officials, journalists, activists and residents gathered at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago to celebrate the renaming of Congress Parkway to Ida B. Wells Drive, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The ceremony also honored Wells becoming the first African-American woman to have a major Chicago street named after her.

“She was an original boss,” the Chicago Tribune reports 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King saying. “She spoke truth to power and changed the landscape of Chicago and the world.”

King added that it’s also “bittersweet that it has taken so long.”

Photo: Jay Koziarz

Wells, who was also known by her married name Ida B. Wells-Barnett, was born into slavery in Mississippi and went on to defeat the odds by becoming a school teacher who created the first kindergarten class for black children. Later, she went on to become a journalist and activist who fought against the racist lynching of Black men and who pushed for a woman’s right to vote.

After migrating to Chicago, Wells ran a housing development on the South Side that provided housing and services to other African-Americans who migrated there from the South. Additionally, she also played a critical role in creating the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association for Colored Women.

Cook County Board President and candidate for Chicago mayor, Toni Preckwinkle, spoke about Wells impact and the legacy she left behind.

“Society thought it had her destiny predetermined: a life surely to be cast aside and voiceless, her name forgotten,” she said. “Today, Chicago will forever know the name of Ida B. Wells. …She held up a mirror to the face of America revealing its sins to the world all while demanding change.”

Wells, who served as a mentor to W.E.B. Du Bois and who was close friends with freedom fighter Frederick Douglass, died in 1931. For years, her life’s work had been overlooked with The New York Times even failing to publish an obituary on her. But, last year the publication addressed the oversight.

Now, after more than a decade of fundraising, the descendants of Wells have raised $30,000 for a monument in her honor. A political fund has also been started in her honor to promote more African American women as candidates for public office.

Wells great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, spoke about what the street naming ceremony meant to her and how excited she was to finally see everything come to fruition.

Photo: Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times, Pictured from left: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells and Ald. Sophia King. 

"When I was walking over here and I saw the sign, I just had to take a moment and just stare,” the Chicago Tribune reporters her saying. "We actually did this... We actually managed to stick with the idea of having an African American woman honored in such a prominent way, in such a large city. It’s just a really, really big achievement."