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With Ida B. Wells Street, Chicago Getting Its First Ever Downtown Street Named For A Black Woman

After a century, the journalist and civil rights leader will finally get her due, her great-granddaughter said.

Ida B. Wells was a pioneer in investigative journalism, documenting lynchings across the United States. [Wikimedia Commons]
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DOWNTOWN—For the first time in the city’s history, a black woman will have a major Downtown thoroughfare named in her honor.

On Monday, Downtown’s Congress Pkwy. will be officially renamed Ida B. Wells Drive, an achievement years in the making to recognize the pioneering journalist and Civil Rights activist’s contributions to Chicago, said Wells’s great-grandaughter, writer and educator Michelle Duster.

Duster has spent the last decade tirelessly working to keep the legacy of her foremother alive. As president of the Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation and member of the Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee, she helped fundraising efforts to erect a monument in Wells’s honor.

After a huge push on social media, the fundraiser met its goal last July, and Duster hopes that the project will be completed in time for the 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial celebration, celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote . The monument will be erected on the former site of the Ida B. Wells Homes, a Chicago Housing Authority housing complex in Bronzeville that was torn down in 2011.

For Duster, the street dedication is an important step to honor the suffragette’s history.

“To me, it’s extremely significant, especially seeing that Chicago was founded by a black man [Jean Baptiste Point du Sable]. For a city to go a hundred years without a street named after an African-American or a woman is something to note,” Duster said. “It’s a huge achievement to have a major street downtown named after a black woman.”

When the League of Women Voters first approached Duster with the idea of honoring Wells for their suffrage centennial celebration by renaming a street in her name, Duster lended her support. Soon after, the group won the support of Ald. Sophia King (4th) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who took the proposal to City Hall. The proposal became an ordinance, passing unanimously last July.

Congress Parkway was named more than a century ago — the Eisenhower used to be called the Congress Expy.

Duster hopes this will inspire other cities to follow suit.

“Street names should reflect the population,” Duster said. “There needs to be more proportional representation. It helps people to see themselves in public spaces, and it helps others to learn and be inspired by people who don’t look like them.”

The ceremony and street sign unveiling will take place at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Winter Garden of Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St. Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP.

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