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A Homecoming, in Bronze, for Civil Rights Firebrand Ida B. Wells

Ida B wells photo.jpg
Katie Riordan/WKNO-FM

At the corner of Fourth and Beale Streets in Downtown Memphis, stands Ida B.Wells, proud and strong, with one hand gripping a pen resting on her hip and the other clutching a copy of the local newspaper she co-owned.

The bronze, life-size statue of the journalist and civil rights activist born in 1862 is the most recent historic marker added in Memphis acknowledging the struggle for racial justice in this city. Organizers revealed the tribute on Friday, which includes a surrounding small plaza named for Wells.

“Legends do win, and legends can be remembered and honored,” says Rev. LaSimba Gray, who is part of the group that raised $250,000 to create the monument.

Wells came to Memphis from Holly Springs, Miss. as a young woman to work as a teacher. Later, she transitioned to writing and became a stakeholder in the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper. After she began investigating and reporting on the brutal lynchings of African Americans, the newspaper’s office was attacked in 1892. Under threat, Wells retreated from her adopted city.

Ida B. Wells vertical
Katie Riordan/WKNO-FM

Gray says the memorial is a way to welcome the trailblazing woman back to the place she started her crusade for justice.

“You don’t build statues for devils and rascals, you build them for people of service,” he says.

After moving to Chicago, Wells continued her writing and campaign combating violence against African Americans until her death in 1931. Chicago also debuted a monument to her earlier this month.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said during a ceremony leading up to the local statue’s unveiling that the history of Black achievement is too often overshadowed.

“But today is different,” he said. “Today is special because today we go about the work of remembering these stories—diverse stories and adding those stories to the pantheon.”

Katie is a freelance contributor to WKNO. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org