The Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr. puts in perspective the effort that has led to the Ida B. Wells Memorial Statue in Memphis. (Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

When the Ida B. Wells Memorial Statue in Memphis is unveiled next Friday (July 16), the action itself will reflect what the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr. said, “many thought  … couldn’t be done.”

The Memphis Memorial Committee thought just the opposite.

“We worked, and now, here we are. It’s been a joy to see people coming together after 130 years to honor Ida B. Wells,” said Gray during a Thursday morning press conference that heralded the onset of Ida B. Wells Celebration week this coming Sunday (July 11) through Friday (July 16).

Gray, pastor emeritus of New Sardis Baptist Church, began talking about erecting a statue of Wells in December 2019. The iconic civil rights activist and journalist had been honored at Lane College, Gray’s alma mater.

As far as Gray was concerned, the city of Memphis had some unfinished business with Wells. He’d made that plain in an earlier speech. Here’s an excerpt:

“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.”

Ida B. Wells Celebration Week kicks off with a 6 p.m. Sunday service, featuring a special message by Gray.

“I am issuing a call out on Sunday night,” said Gray. “I am issuing a call to action. I’m calling for an executive order: the Emmitt Till Anti-Lynching Bill.”

A local segment of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc. put in the work to honor Ida B. Wells. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Thursday’s pre-celebration culminated with a giant check presentation of $10,000 from a local faction of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc. Gray indicated that Dr. Yvonne Acey – an AKA soror, associate director of the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival and a Memphis Memorial Committee member – asked her sorority to support the project.

Ida B Wells Celebration Week Public Calendar