The Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr. puts in perspective the effort that led to the Ida B. Wells Memorial Statue in Memphis. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell/ The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

“Exciting new plans” for the Ida B. Wells Plaza in Downtown Memphis and groundbreaking are slated for Saturday (July 16) according to the Memphis Memorial Committee (MMC).

“Saturday, July 16, is the birthday of Ida B. Wells, and we want everyone to come out and celebrate with us,” said the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., president of MMC. “We have been working on some exciting plans for the plaza. We’re calling it Phase II.”

A statue of Wells was unveiled in July 2021, an event that garnered national attention. The statue looks out over her beloved Beale Street at the corner of Fourth Street. She stands on a grassy platform, only a few feet from historic First Baptist Church-Beale, where she ran her printing press.

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 Archives)

Gray and MMC drove the effort to have a portion of Fourth Street changed to “Ida B. Wells-Barnett Street.” Memphis City Council voted to rename the stretch between Union Avenue and Crump Boulevard in January.

“Phase II. is the next segment in expanding our tribute to Ida B. Wells-Barnett,” said Gray. “She hated lynching and the scourge of violent white supremacy. She fled Memphis to save her life. That left a pall of shame on this city. We want to enhance this great work we’ve started. We are building her legacy in this city.” 

Gray said Phase II. will involve new construction. He did not elaborate on any specific details. It is unclear whether the Phase II. will be supported with a major fundraiser, as in the initial project.

Artists Larry and Andrea Lugar designed the bronze, sculpted likeness of Wells, along with other renderings of pieces depicting aspects of Wells’ story.

Despite the global pandemic, MMC raised more than $250,000 to support the plaza’s initial plans.

Wells was born into slavery on July 16, 1862, as the Civil War raged. Her parents were activists during Reconstruction, teaching Wells the importance of sacrificial work in the interest of freedom and equality for her people.

Wells became a schoolteacher before taking on the horrors of lynching as a publisher and journalist. She refused to stop when powerful white leaders told her to stop publishing. 

An angry mob destroyed her office and printing press while she was out of town. They sought to take her life, and Wells never returned to Memphis.

Chicago became her new home, where her descendants still live today. She was one the founders of the national NAACP.

 “Visitors come to Memphis from all over the world,” said Gray.

“We want to make Wells Plaza a must-see, a point of destination. There is still more work to do.”

Gray encouraged everyone to come witness another historic unveiling. The celebration starts at noon.

Robert R. Church Park stands adjacent to Wells Plaza, and everyone is welcome to continue the celebration in the park.