Ida B. Wells-Barnett Becomes First Black Woman to Be Honored in Chicago With a Monument

One of our most daring trailblazers of the civil rights movement was honored in the Windy City with a bronze statue.

By Zack Linly

Let it never be said that Black people are anti-monument. Obviously, we would rather not see statues erected to commemorate people who would see us back in chains if they were alive today, but America does have its heroes who are worth honoring. On Wednesday, Chicago gave us a shining example of this when city officials revealed a monument to educator, journalist and civil rights icon Ida B. Wells-Barnett.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the monument was unveiled in the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago during a ceremony that featured speeches from prominent Black women in the city such as Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Sophia King.

“I stand on her shoulders as an elected official, like literally, because during the women’s suffrage movement, the state of Illinois got the right to vote almost over 10 years before the 19th Amendment was passed,” King said during the ceremony. “And I think it passed because of efforts like hers.”

Also in attendance at the ceremony was journalist and The 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones—who, on the same day as the statue’s unveiling, was finally granted tenure at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after a long, contentious drama that never should have happened.

“We are actually fighting against the same type of tyranny and white supremacy that Ida B. Wells was fighting against all those years ago,” Hannah-Jones—whose Twitter display name, “Ida Bae Wells,” honors the famed civil rights leader—said in reference to the voter suppression and anti-Critical Race Theory laws being proposed and passed across the nation. “These are going hand in hand with memory laws that are being passed to not only make it harder for Black people to vote, but also to make it harder to understand why it is hard for Black people to vote. They won’t even allow us to teach about Ida B. Wells, because they say we make certain students uncomfortable when we confront them with the racist history of this country.”

The monument—which, according to the Sun-Times, was created by Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt—is titled “The Light of Truth,” which is a nod to one of Wells-Barnett’s most well-known quotes, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” The quote is inscribed on the base of the monument.

Daniel Duster, the great-grandson of Wells-Barnett, spoke during the ceremony about the importance of a monument representing one of the leaders of the civil rights movement whose contributions to the movement aren’t highlighted in American history books nearly as thoroughly as they should be.

“Most people still don’t know what she did,” he said. “And so the fact that Chicago has decided to honor her and it’s been 13 years in the making, I have a feeling of joy, excitement, appreciation and humbleness.”

According to CBS News, the Wells-Barnett monument represents the first in Chicago to be dedicated to a Black woman.