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Statue project planned to pay ‘a debt’ to Ida B. Wells

A moment historic and far-reaching in its scope presented itself Thursday shortly after 6 p.m. when a committee formed to honor Ida B. Wells convened on a virtual meeting platform.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, in a photograph by Mary Garrity from c. 1893.

Chaired by the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., pastor emeritus of New Sardis Baptist Church and treasurer of Best Media Properties, LLC (parent company of The New Tri-State Defender), announced that a statue of the iconic journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells-Burnett will be erected on Beale Street.

“We are paying a debt to Ida B. Wells,” Gray said. “This project has been a long time coming. Last year, I had a conversation with Dr. Miriam Decosta-Willis (educator, author and civil rights activist). We decided that we ought to be doing something to honor Ida B. Wells. Dr. Decosta-Willis is co-chair, but she was unable to be in this meeting.”

As a historic figure, Ida B. Wells-Barnett is synonymous with anti-lynching activism and investigative journalism. She spent two decades in Memphis, where she became an outspoken advocate against racial violence directed toward African Americans in the post-slavery South.

The Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr. brings forward the activism journey of Ida B. Wells-Barnett in “Metamorphosis of Memphis the Blues and Beale Street 1819-2019” (Photo of Dr. Gray: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/TSD Archives)

Gray said about 40 individuals have signed on to the committee to honor Wells, who married (in 1895) renowned lawyer Ferdinand L. Barnett. With four children, Wells-Barnett balanced activism and motherhood throughout her career.

“We need to raise $150,000 for the statue,” Gray said. “Funds raised beyond that amount will be sent to Rust College in Holly Springs, MS, where Wells-Burnett went to school. Scholarships will be awarded to deserving Rust students.”

The committee moving to honor her has secured support for the idea from the City of Memphis and the Beale Street Development Corporation. The monument will likely be installed on Beale Street because Wells-Burnett was on Beale Street during her life, said Gray.

Two likely sites have been identified: Beale and Hernando, where Wells-Burnett ran her printing press, and the corner of Beale and Fourth, near historic First Baptist Church-Beale Street.

Gray said the committee expects to have raised the $150,000 by Nov. 1, 2020. The statue unveiling targets July 16, 2021. Wells-Burnett was born on July 16, 1862. She died March 25, 1931 in Chicago.

During Thursday’s organizing meeting, committee members sang “Happy Birthday” in salute.

(To make a tax-free donation toward the erecting of the statue to honor Ida B. Wells-Barnett, contact the Rev. Darrell Harrington, pastor of New Sardis Baptist Church at 901-754-3979.)


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