In the historic church that housed the newspaper produced by fear-defying journalist Ida B. Wells, the spearhead of the effort to honor her with a Memphis statue issued “a call to action” during a Sunday evening (July 11) worship service.
“A man or woman should not be judged by what they say or what they do,” said the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., a founding member of the Memphis Memorial Committee, whose effort to create a monument saluting Wells culminates with a Beale Street unveiling on Friday morning.
“A person should be judged by what they are willing to suffer. Ida B. Wells spent 53 of her 69 years putting aside her own self-interest. She followed the mandate of Jesus Christ,” said Gray from the pulpit of First Baptist Church-Beale Street, which, notably, was built by freed slaves.
“What are you willing to suffer? This is a call to action.”
Gray’s impassioned plea for civil rights activism to honor “the life, legacy and labor” of Ida B. Wells capped a service kicking of Ida B. Wells Celebration Week. “The Actualized Faith of Ida B. Wells” was a well-researched treatise about the strength of conviction Wells demonstrated throughout her life.
On a printing press in the basement of First Baptist Church-Beale, Wells published her newspaper documenting and decrying the lynching of African Americans in the United States. And on Sunday evening, the church’s age-reflecting sanctuary seemed a fitting backdrop for a message of remembrance and respect for the iconic civil rights activist.
Gray made the case that there is much work to do, as evidenced by Republican-led legislatures that have – amid former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from him – passed laws that effectively present obstacles to voting, particularly by African Americans.
“They’re trying to make sure we don’t go and vote. I don’t care what laws they pass. We need to go and vote,” said Gray, who then built upon the need for resolve. “It’s dangerous to tell the truth in 2021. … But we’ve got to stand on the truth and tell the truth. We must be determined and resolved that we will tell the truth.
“A law was passed to protect Asian Americans from racial violence, and we applaud that. But we say to President Biden, you’ve got some people who have been waiting 400 years. Pass the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”
In Memphis, said Gray, an activist agenda is being discussed in the context of “what comes next after Friday’s unveiling” of the Ida B. Wells statue and the end of Ida B. Wells Celebration Week.
The Rev. Dr. Bill Adkins, pastor of Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith and a Memphis Memorial Committee member, shared that he has been talking with city council members about renaming 4th Street “Ida B. Wells Street.”
To view the entire calendar of Ida B. Wells Celebration Week events, click below.