CHICAGO — Ida B. Wells was born into slavery near the end of the Civil War and dedicated her life’s work to fighting racism and inequality. She was also a fierce advocate for African American women. In celebration of Women’s History Month, the legacy of Ida B. Wells, she is one of Chicago’s Very Own.
Dan Duster and Michelle Duster talked to WGN about Wells — their great grandmother.
As an educator, a journalist and fierce promoter for civil rights, Wells spent most of her life crusading for justice and equality for Black people, as well as women, from the late 1800s through the early 20th century.
“The more I learned about just the realities of women in general but African American women specifically the more extraordinary my great grandmother seemed to me,” Michelle Duster said.
Wells was a force to be reckoned with especially in the women’s’ suffrage movement where white women ostracized her because of her stance against lynching.
Wells didn’t let that stop her and founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Club and the Alpha Suffrage Club here in Chicago, the first to promote the efforts for Black women to vote.
Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi during the Civil War in 1862.
Learning the value of education from her parents, she enrolled in historically black, Rust College, only to be expelled after an argument with the school’s president.
She later moved to Memphis Tennessee and started the Memphis Free Speech newspaper.
After a friend was lynched by a white mob, she began writing a series of columns and used it as a tool expose racial injustice.
After death threats and the burning of her press, Wells relocated to Chicago. The home she shared with her husband Ferdinand and their children, here on South Martin Luther King Drive, is now a national landmark.
The Dusters say Wells doesn’t get the recognition she deserves for what she fought for and accomplished in her lifetime. She paved the way for African Americans who came after her.
This monument, called “The Light of Truth ” was unveiled last year in her honor at the site of the former Ida. B. Wells Homes and the city renamed Congress Parkway in her honor in 2018.
The family continues their efforts to honor their great grandmother through the Ida B. Wells Foundation.
And great granddaughter Michelle, has written and edited several books, including her great grandmother’s original writings, “Ida In Her Own Words.”
But this is her latest honor: The Ida B Wells, Barbie doll, released by Mattell earlier this year as part of its “Women Inspiring Women” series. It is a replica of Wells holding an edition of the newspaper she owned.
“We were like yeah a doll, that could work because that would help a younger generation learn about her and be exposed to her,” Michelle Duster said.
And the Dusters aren’t done educating folks on that period in American history.
Ida B. Wells is one of Chicago’s Very Own.