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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Council vote anchors spirit of Ida B. Wells

by James Coleman —

A monument to Memphis civil rights icon and anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells was approved by Memphis City Council members Tuesday.

The bronze statue will be located at the southeast corner of Fourth and Beale. 

The $150,000 project is the result of a fundraising effort spearheaded by the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., pastor emeritus of New Sardis Baptist Church, along with local history advocates working as the Memphis Memorial Committee.

Names of the donors will be engraved on the installation site. The site is also slated to hold a projection pool and bench seating.

The salute to Wells will stand close to First Baptist Church, where she once published a newspaper from the basement.

Wells was the co-owner of two Memphis-based publications: The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight.

“Her history with Memphis has to be recognized. She was run out of town and we want to bring her back,” said Gray.

Ida B. Wells’ dogged pursuit of an end to lynching is sketched on both sides of this marker, which notes, in part, that she went about an aspect of her newspaper business in and around what now is the Beale St. Entertainment District. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/TSD Archives)

Born into slavery, Wells was three years old when the civil war ended. At 16, she lost both her parents during a yellow fever epidemic. To hold her family together, the student at Rust college took a job as a teacher. Standing 5-feet tall, she wore dresses down to her ankles to appear older.

Later, she moved to Memphis where teachers were better compensated. She taught at Shelby County and Woodstock schools. She continued her education at Fisk College in Nashville and LeMoyne-Owen.

Her efforts against lynching eventually led her to flee Memphis for Chicago, where she continued to lead anti-lynching efforts. She also promoted African Americans leaving the South – and its Jim Crow laws – for northern states.

Larry and Andrea Lugar of the Lugar Foundry in Eads were commissioned with the weighty task of generating Wells’ image for the statue. Gray previously had worked with the Lugars to erect a life-size statue of Bishop Isaac Lane on the Lane College campus (in Jackson, Tennessee).


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