If you’ve been to downtown Chicago in the past year or two, you might have noticed that the prominent east/west artery formerly known as Congress Parkway is now Ida B. Wells Drive. Officially dedicated on February 11, 2019, Ida B. Wells Drive is the first road in Chicago to be named after a black woman. Affixing her name to a major thoroughfare is a fitting tribute to the many ways Ida Bell Wells-Barnett connected the ideas of compounding discrimination based on race and gender.
Born into slavery during the Civil War, Wells was a rabble rouser of the finest caliber. Raising issues of racial injustice and gender inequality, Wells wasn’t one to shy away from a difficult task or back down from a difficult fight. In her career as an educator, journalist, and activist, she wasn’t afraid to take on university presidents, train car companies, or white supremacists. Her commitment to education led her to establish the first kindergarten for black children. Her bravery as a reporter helped open the eyes of the nation to the horrors of lynching. And her staunch belief in enfranchisement for all often led to conflict between her and white suffragists.
Despite the many challenges she faced, Wells’ accomplishments are many. She was the editor and co-owner of The Free Speech and Headlight, a Black-owned newspaper based in the Beale Street Baptist Church in Memphis. She helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She went on two major speaking tours throughout Europe and established the first anti-lynching organization in the world whose members included the Archbishop of Canterbury and twenty members of parliament.
Wells was a revolutionary figure that helped others see the evils of injustice. She held the world to a higher standard holding up a mirror so the world would have to acknowledge who it was and decide who it wanted to be.
As we continue on this Lenten journey and celebration of Black History Month, I pray we have the courage of Ida B. Wells to not just dream of a better world, but commit ourselves to the work of bringing one forth.