Ida B. Wells has inspired generations of activists and journalists. Revealed on Wednesday, a new monument commemorating her life and legacy stands in the South Side Chicago neighborhood she called home.
The small commemorative area dedicated to Wells at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, doesn’t do her justice. Created by the legendary sculptor Robert Hunt, The Light of Truth Ida. B. Wells National Monument, which takes its name from one of Wells’ most famous quotes.
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them,” Wells told a crowd during a speech in 1892. The often-quoted phrase has become a motto for people fighting to change the status quo.
Michelle Duster, Wells’ great-granddaughter, spoke with WTTW News about commissioning an abstract work versus a statute.
“We wanted it to be a monument vs. a statue because Ida’s life and her work was so multi-dimensional, so multi-layered that we felt trying to capture one pose would not capture all of who she was,” Duster told WTTW.
A Mississippi native, Wells-Barnett was born into slavery in 1862. She later became a newspaper editor and vocal advocate. Through her writing and lectures, Wells-Barnett advocated for civil rights, including the right to vote. She spoke around the country and abroad about the plight of Black people in America.
Wells-Barnett did not separate her journalism from her activism or political work. Each area was a part of who she was and how she contributed to the cause of the Black people of her time. She raised awareness of the horrors of lynching, organized Black women to fight for voting rights, and helped elect Black elected officials such as Chicago’s first Black Alderman Oscar De Priest.
She also co-founded the Alpha Suffrage. Not one to mince words, Wells-Barnett directly challenged the racism of her white peers within the suffrage movement.
In 1910, Wells-Barnett published “How Enfranchisement Stops Lynchings,” focusing on the power of electoral participation.
“With no sacredness of the ballot, there can be no sacredness of human life itself,” wrote Wells-Barnett. “Having successfully swept aside the constitutional safeguards to the ballot, it is the smallest of small matters for the South to sweep aside its own safeguards to human life.”
The new sculpture marks the first time a Black woman has been memorialized in Chicago in this way.