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Ida B. Wells Will Get The Monument She Deserves After Community Raises $300K

"This project is bigger than Ida ... It's about black women finally starting to get recognized for what we did and what we've contributed in this country."

Ida B. Wells was a pioneer in investigative journalism, documenting lynchings across the United States. [Wikimedia Commons]
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CHICAGO — A monument to Ida B. Wells, a pioneering journalist and civil rights activist, is one major step closer to coming to Bronzeville.

The committee behind the monument has fundraised off and on since 2011, trying to raise $300,000 so they can construct a monument that will honor Wells’ legacy while educating the public about the famed writer, said Michelle Duster, a great-granddaughter of Wells and a member of the committee.

The group got significantly closer to their fundraising goal this week when they raised $40,000 on Monday in honor of Wells’ birthday.

With that huge jump in donations, Duster estimates that only $30,000 or so is now needed. Fundraising could be finished within “the next couple of weeks,” Duster said. The monument will eventually sit at 37th and Langley.

The monument would be one of very few tributes to black women in Chicago, Duster said.

“During her lifetime, she was involved in multiple initiatives that were all centered around justice and equity and civil rights,” Duster said. “That is a significant contribution to the United States, to what this country is, and she should be recognized for what she did. She should be considered an American hero.”

Work hasn’t started on the monument yet, but the artist, Richard Hunt, expects to start this fall and the organizers hope to unveil it in 2019. It will be at least 12 feet tall and abstract, with Wells’ quotes and biographical information displayed on it so can convey Wells’ voice and passersby can learn about her work, Duster said.

Plans for the memorial started when the Ida B. Wells Homes, which sat where the monument will one day be unveiled, were shuttered. Residents asked for there to be some sort of marker to remember Wells, a Chicago resident for more than 30 years; eventually, organizers settled on the monument, Duster said.

From those beginnings, organizers created a grassroots campaign to raise money from thousands of supporters. Ninety percent of the donations that have been given to the campaign were between $10 and $50, Duster said — which she thinks is appropriate, given Wells’ grassroots work with the public with the civil rights and suffragists movements.

“I view this as sort of like the people’s monument. My great-grandmother belonged to the people; she was part of the public …,” Duster said. “And I want the public to feel like they’re part of it.

“This project is bigger than Ida. I feel like it’s about what we all can do if we combine our efforts and energies together, and I feel like it’s about black women finally starting to get recognized for what we did and what we’ve contributed in this country.”

Duster hopes children will be able to go on field trips to the monument to learn about Wells, that residents of the now-closed Ida B. Wells Homes will be able to use the memorial to fondly remember their home, and that Chicagoans all over will feel pride in the tribute.

“The city itself should be very proud to call her a longtime resident and be proud to recognize her,” Duster said. “I look at this monument as a national project that happens to be located in Chicago.”

Donations for the campaign are still being accepted online. Any money that’s raised past the goal will be used for smaller pieces around the monument.