Now anchored in Ida B. Wells Plaza, the statue saluting the journalist-activist resulted from the efforts of the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr. and the Memphis Memorial Committee. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

by James Coleman —

Contributions by journalist and post-Reconstruction civil rights leader Ida B. Wells were recognized by the Memphis City Council during the council’s Tuesday (Jan. 18) meeting after a section of a Downtown street was renamed in her honor.

The resolution passed on its third and final reading. All members of the council sponsored it.

Instead of dutifully following a numerical order, the stretch of Fourth Street between Union Avenue and E. H. Crump Boulevard will be named Ida B. Wells-Barnett Street.

The office of the newspaper she co-owned – Memphis Free Speech and Headlight – was located at First Baptist Church, near where a bronze statue of Wells now rests.

On a printing press in the basement of First Baptist Church-Beale, Wells used her platform to report and write editorials on the horrors of lynching in the Jim Crow South. She also printed pamphlets that brought national attention to the issue.

Eventually, she and her partners were forced to leave Memphis for the North after threats on their lives by white supremacists.

Wells moved to New York City and later to Chicago, where she was one of the founding members of the NAACP.

The Ida B. Wells Memorial Statue in Memphis was unveiled on July 16 after the culmination of an effort that “many thought … couldn’t be done,” said the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., a key organizer.

As he pitched honoring Wells-Barnett with a statue, Gray said, “There is a great debt of love and gratitude owed Ida B. Wells for all she gave to this city. … 

“Though small in stature, Ida B. Wells spoke out against lynching and wrote her scathing editorials against the racial injustices raging across the south. Ida B. Wells loved Memphis, and we should return that love after 130 years. She should be honored with a statue in this city.”