Black History Month + Women's History Month = the muckraking Ida B. Wells

With February being Black History Month and March dubbed Women's History Month, it's as good a time as any to honor an African-American woman who contributed to both histories. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the muckraking journalist, was an outspoken social campaigner, newspaper editor and political candidate in the late 1800s to early 1900s and the ideal candidate to bridge these two months of celebration.

She was a stalwart of everything that a progressive woman would have been involved in during her time--she documented lynching as a tool of social control in the South, was an early leader of the Civil Rights Movement, participated in the suffragette movement and co-founded the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People. And she did this notwithstanding the deep discrimination she would have faced from a society still deeply and instituionally divided by race and gender.

What made Wells such a unique women? Michelle Duster, her great-great-grandaughter, lets us know her thoughts on part one of an episode of the Barbershop Show devoted to Wells.

In Chicago, the city in which she would pass away, she was part of numerous campaigns--along with Jane Addams, Wells blocked the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago; mounted a protest against racism at the World's Colombian Exposition of 1893 and ran for the Illinos state legislature, making her the first black women to run for public office in the United States.

But her name is perhaps best remembered for the Ida B. Wells Homes, a public housing complex built in 1941 that eventually came to be associated with the crime and poverty of many of Chicago's now-demolished public housing complexes. The buildings were torn down in 2011, but Wells legacy remains in the city. Christopher Manning, an associate professor of history at Loyola University, considers this legacy and how it continues to inform racial issues in Chicago.

Past residents of the Ida B. Wells Homes, and her descendants, are planning to enshrine this legacy. A sculpture by the renowned African-American sculptor Richard Hunt is expected to be the centerpiece of a new housing development on the site of the Wells Homes. In this video from the Barbershop Show, Hunt describes his vision for the project.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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