There was always going to be great fanfare surrounding an Ida B. Wells monument.
The Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr. and the Ida B. Wells Memphis Memorial Committee envisioned a day when Wells would finally return to Memphis, the city she loved so dearly.
That “day” begins with a scheduled news conference by Gray and the Ida B. Wells Memphis Memorial Committee at 10:30 a.m. Thursday (July 8), where a schedule of activities for Ida B. Wells Celebration Week will be announced.
The news conference will be at the corner of Beale and Fourth, where Wells did much of her work at historic First Baptist Church-Beale.
The celebration runs from Sunday (July 11) through Friday (July 16). The culmination will be the unveiling of Memphis’ Wells statue.
“God has a time for everything,” said Gray. “We never stopped working, despite the pandemic. Two weeks ago, I just turned 75. Unveiling the statue of Ida B. Wells and the festivities we have planned surrounding this momentous event, is a day of my dreams, the best birthday present I can imagine.
“When it looked like the pandemic was shutting everything down, we kept on working. We kept on praying. God owns it all. Nothing can shut Him down.”
The kick-off event is a Sunday church service at the historic First Baptist Church-Beale.
A grand parade and other commemorative activities are in store, but the Sunday message, delivered by Gray, will set the tone for the week.
Gray hopes everyone will especially come out to the Sunday service.
“Sunday’s message will be a call to action,” said Gray. “When voting rights are being threatened across this nation, and the attempt to roll back the clock on civil rights, we must heed the call to fight against these efforts.
“We must stand at the ready to push back, for the sake of our children and our grandchildren coming after us. This is a message we all need to hear.”
The people of Memphis never got the chance to say “thank you” to Wells for speaking out against the heinous injustice of lynching.
Her courageous challenges of the oppressive conditions of bigotry and gross inequality imposed by whites against African Americans in the South produced the fiery, unbridled outcry in her news editorials.
“Ida B. Wells wasn’t afraid to stand up to the powers that be in her day,” said Gray. “Lynching was rampant throughout the South, and she spoke out boldly against it — not only in her speeches, but also in her newspaper.
“We need her brand of activism today. The need to stand up against injustice and inequality is just as important and relevant now as it was back then.”
Gray continued, “The title of my sermon for Ida B. Wells Week is, ‘The Actualized Faith of Ida B. Wells.’ We must not be afraid to stand up for what is right.
“Ms. Wells was barely five feet tall, but she was never afraid to speak out against injustice and unrighteousness. She leaves a legacy of activism for us to follow.”
Wells, however, did not get to continue her work in activist journalism. When three friends of hers, successful businessmen in Memphis were lynched by an angry white mob, Wells, who was one of the co-founders of the NAACP, wrote about it and spoke about it relentlessly.
Her life was threatened as it had been many times. But this time was different. Friends begged Wells to flee Memphis before it was too late. Heartbroken for having to leave her beloved Memphis, Wells left, never to return for the remainder of her life.
Gray kicked off the project to erect a statue in honor of Wells, only months before the global pandemic hit the country in 2020.
From no real support to build on, Gray pulled together several Memphians with a call to join the effort to raise money for the project. Not even the prohibitive $150,000 price tag deterred him.
The Ida B. Wells Memorial Plaza will not only feature a statue of the civil rights leader and journalist, but learning stations will be unveiled so that visitors may read about the highlights in her life.
The plaza is at the corner of Beale and Fourth.