The Ida B. Wells marker at 37th and Martin Luther King Drive will soon be getting a new garden. A dedication ceremony will take place Saturday. Credit: Provided.

BRONZEVILLE — The Ida B. Wells Homes marker is getting a garden, and organizers are inviting the community to come out for a dedication ceremony this weekend.

The event is 10 a.m.-11:45 a.m. Saturday at the site of the stone marker at 37th and Martin Luther King Drive commemorating Wells and residents of the public housing project named for her. Attendees are invited to plant seeds in the garden with community volunteers, enjoy light refreshments and listen to remarks from historian and writer Bernard Turner and a representative from the 4th Ward office.

The stone marker, installed in 2019 by artist David Anthony Geary, was created to honor Ida B. Wells Homes residents who left when the housing development was demolished in 2002.

Wells, a pioneering civil rights advocate, journalist, anti-lynching activist and suffragette, spent her adult years on the South Side after fleeing violence in the South. She died in 1931.

In 2018, the Chicago City Council changed the name of Congress Parkway to Ida B. Wells Drive, the first Downtown Chicago street named for a woman of color.

Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Wells and founding member of the Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation, told Block Club it took less than three days to meet the $1,300 crowdsourcing goal earlier this year for the garden project.

“It tells me if people think this is important, that honoring Ida is important. People responded, they donated, and then I received a lot of emails from people were like, ‘Oh my god, this is so overdue. She’s such an icon and she definitely deserves bigger,'” said Duster, whose foundation also organizes the annual Ida B. Wells Festival.

Artist Richard Hunt fist-bumps Ida B. Wells’ great-grandson Dan Duster as residents, public officials and members of Wells’ family gather for the unveiling of the Ida B. Wells Monument in Bronzeville on June 30, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The foundation collaborated with ProSocial Chicago, a new nonprofit dedicated to helping beautification projects on the South and West sides, on the design of the garden surrounding the marker.

The 10-by-10-foot garden took a month to complete and will feature shrubs, native wildflowers and possibly a dogwood tree, said ProSocial founder Casey Merchant.

Merchant said it feels “amazing” to be part of something that honors the iconic civil rights leader.

“We want the community to know that this is their garden, and that this project was community-driven. The city has not funded this project. The community asked for this,” said Merchant, a former My Block, My Hood, My City organizer. “ProSocial Chicago wanted to support, so we kicked it off. We listened to community interest and helped made it happen. We want community to have that opportunity to participate.”

The marker is several blocks west of the “Light of Truth” National Ida B. Wells Monument that was installed in June 2021. The artwork, created by sculptor Richard Hunt, was a painstaking labor of love for Michelle Duster and her brother Daniel, who spent years working to bring the project to fruition.

Duster hopes this newest addition to honor her great-grandmother’s legacy will inspire a walking tour of places she frequented — including 31st Street Beach, where she stepped out to get residents to safety during the Red Summer of 1919 — and more artwork featuring her, such as the mural bearing her likeness at Wabash and Harrison avenues.

“I’m a big proponent of education outside of the walls. I don’t think that you have to learn everything in school. You can be a lifelong learner, so my hope is that people can walk around in the same neighborhood where Ida lived, and go to the places where she went to learn about not only her, but about the community when she was there and how it’s changed over the last 100 years,” said Duster.

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