BRONZEVILLE — WTTW’s popular docuseries, “Chicago Stories,” will explore iconic journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s ties to Bronzeville during a one-hour special set to air Friday.
“Ida B. Wells: A Chicago Stories Special” follows the Black suffragette from her humble beginnings in Holly Springs, Miss., to Chicago’s famed Black Belt in the late 19th century. Wells-Barnett was posthumously recognized by the Pulitzer committee last year, and her great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, wrote a book about her work that was released earlier this year.
Writer and producer Stacy Robinson said she hopes viewers will come away from the episode inspired and with a new perspective on the civil rights leader, who was honored with her own street in 2019 when Congress Parkway was renamed Ida B. Wells Drive.
Robinson said she was “over the moon” when the station approached her about doing the episode.
“We tried to set up a personal narrative about her own experiences to make her a real person, not just a historical figure,” Robinson said. “It’s like activism is this sort of lofty position, or an idealistic view. It’s not. It’s work, and this documentary showed me that I need to be willing to do the work.”
The docuseries takes a closer look at Wells-Barnett’s advocacy work with her founding of the Negro Fellowship League, an organization that connected arrivals from the South with vital resources as they transitioned into their northern lives at a time when they were being turned away by white institutions. The group would convene at a building on 30th and State Street, now the Illinois Institute of Technology.
The episode also dives into Wells-Barnett’s work with The Pekin theater, one of the first Black-owned and -operated venues in the city and the nation. Robert Motts, an entrepreneur who made his money in vice, converted his saloon on 27th and State Street into an upscale venue that regularly featured Black artists, drawing visitors from around the globe.
“She was a booster for him. She held a huge gala event there. Churches complained about it,” Robinson said. “We were able to tell so much of the story about the history of Bronzeville by telling the story of Ida B. Wells. I didn’t realize that this is what we were going to get when we started, but what a story.”
While the episode is set to premiere on all platforms 8 p.m. Friday, a special Q&A is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday. Robinson, Wells-Barnett’s great-grandson Dan Duster, and New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will be panelists and it will be moderated by WTTW’s Sylvia Ewing. Viewers can RSVP for the virtual event here.
“I hope that people see how an ordinary person tackled these problems, and how she would take it on, effectively change the country for the better. That’s what she did with the anti-lynching campaign,” Robinson said. “In terms of race and social inequity, we have to look to the past.”
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