Ida B. Wells monument to come to Bronzeville

By Amanda Murphy

Memorials to celebrated historic figures are sprinkled throughout Chicago, reminding passersby of those who helped build the city as it stands today. Like the statues in Grant Park, they celebrate the past and assist Chicagoans in remembering their roots and the important individuals who made their mark on the city’s history.

One of these figures, Ida B. Wells, will soon be added to that list.

The Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee is in the planning stages of creating a monument for the civil rights revolutionary. With renowned artist, Richard Hunt, lined up to be the designer, and the Langley Boulevard median just south of 37th street in the Oakwood Community picked as the location, all that’s left to do is raise the funds.

The idea for the project came about when the Ida B. Wells Homes, which comprised the first housing project in Chicago in 1941, were demolished. Residents of the homes knew the importance of the civil rights leader and didn’t want her legacy to be erased along with the buildings.

Michelle Duster, member of the Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee and great granddaughter of Wells, said the committee formed sometime before 2008 when it was made clear that a commemoration of some kind was needed.

Wells dedicated herself to correcting injustices to African-Americans in the late 1800s and early 1900s. An anti-lynching crusader, she worked hard to educate Americans of every race on the serious degree of racism in the South.

“She was maybe the most prominent African-American in the city for decades and represented a force of justice that was very important,” said Perry Duis, history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Although the project is still in the planning stages, Duster said it will cost about $300,000, and that the planned completion date is by the end of 2012. The idea for the statue has been finalized, but other plans are also in consideration for the park.

Duster said the spot was picked initially because of its proximity to a community center from the housing project. The committee planned on rehabbing the building, which needs a good deal of work, and using it as an arts and recreational center for the Bronzeville community. Although that idea is more of a pipe dream, Duster said the committee would like to see such a center there eventually, even if it means most likely creating an entirely new building.

The committee is also hoping to recruit local artists to add supplemental pieces to educate spectators about Wells’ more specific contributions.

“We’re hoping we can add smaller pieces, like benches and plaques that complement Richard Hunt’s [art], but have more information on what she did, who she was, writings and quotes, for example,” Duster said. “It would give local artists an opportunity to be creative but also to create something cohesive and together.”

The committee is currently working on raising funds through multiple activities. Duster said members want to encourage support from a wide range of sources, such as school bake sales and penny-drives up to donations from philanthropists who could “write one check and pay for the entire thing.” Because this is a community-inspired project, she said they want to include the people of Bronzeville and the former occupants of the Ida B. Wells Homes as much as possible.

“This is bigger than just the homes, and in my opinion, it’s bigger than Chicago,” Duster said. “This will contribute to our nation as far as recognizing the contributions of a great American woman.”

Troy Duster, grandson of Ida B. Wells and sociology professor at University of California at Berkeley, said that more than building a monument, he hopes the legacy of his grandmother inspires people to correct injustices they see in the world. He said the U.S. has too many instances of forgotten legacies, where people remember names because of hollow holidays, but not the reasons why the person was great.

“The fact [that] she fought injustices as a kind of lonely figure in history is a remarkable story,” Troy Duster said. “You can’t fight every battle, but you can certainly pick up on her traditions and expose injustice.”

For more information on the monument visit