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Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, Leader in civil rights

Source: Universal History Archive / Getty

Community members in downtown Memphis rejoiced on July 16, after a commemorative statue of legendary civil rights journalist and NAACP co-founder Ida B. Wells was unveiled in the city.

The life-size statue now stands tall near Beale and Fourth street, just steps away from Wells’s Free Speech and Headlight, a newspaper company the historic figure once owned and wrote a number of investigative journalism pieces for. Memphis citizens cheered and celebrated with a parade filled with music and festivities leading up to the statue’s special unveiling.

The historic event took place on what would have been her 159th birthday. Ida B. Wells was born into slavery on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The significance of Well’s honorable piece also solidifies another large feat for the community. Wells now joins a small group of historic Black women to be honored with public statues. A statistic gathered by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2011 suggests that 8% of public outdoor statues are of women and even fewer are of Black women, MLK50 reports. 

While things have certainly progressed since the study, Wells’ family says they’re looking to make a change in the way that Black women’s history is memorialized and represented in public spaces. Michelle Duster who is the great-granddaughter of the civil rights activist said during the ceremony that she’s working towards the cause.

“Some people don’t want our stories, our realities, our perspectives to be told, heard, or acknowledged,” Duster explained. “But between all of us present today, in the spirit of Ida B. Wells, we will not be silenced. We will not be marginalized. We will not allow our truths, our stories, our experiences to be minimized or erased… What you have created here with this Ida B. Wells statue and Ida B. Wells Plaza is of national significance and a source of pride for our members and the country.” 

The development of Wells’ statue began production in 2019, spearheaded by the Memphis Memorial Committee who raised more than $260,000 for the replica.  Additional funds from the budget were allocated to Rust College’s scholarship programs. Wells’ father founded the historically Black college in 1866, and Ida briefly attended the institution.  

The chairman of the Memphis Memorial Committee, Dr. LaSimba Gray says he hopes that the full-size model of Wells which is reportedly the only one in the country, helps inspire people to “uplift humanity.”

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