Celebrating Our Successes: Michelle Duster

By: Bill O’Connell

Author, speaker, and teacher Michelle Duster is working with the Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee to memorialize her great-grandmother Ida B. Wells in bronze. She states, “This monument will be the first in Chicago to honor an African American woman. Given the current political and social climate in our country, the contributions of African American women need to be recognized. Less than 10% of all monuments are in honor of women and a small percentage of those are of African American women.”

The monumental artwork which will honor the life, work and words of Ida B. Wells will be located at 37th & Langley in Bronzeville, the Chicago neighborhood where she once lived, worked and raised her family. The art will be a fitting tribute to a legendary African American woman who made a substantial contribution to civil rights for women and minorities during her lifetime, and left a great legacy of published writings.

The central sculpture, to be created by Richard Hunt, one of Chicago’s most honored sculptors, will invite reflection on Ida B. Wells’ writings and life, and provide inspiration to those who view this work of art. Upon completion, this monument will be donated to the City of Chicago’s Public Art Collection.

For more information on the monument and how to support this project, visit: http://www.idabwellsmonument.org

Committee members include from left Khari Matthew Humphries, Community Life Senior Manager of The Community Builders, Inc.; Daniel Duster, great-grandson of Ida B. Wells; Shirley Newsome, committee member; Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells; and Anthony Rogers, committee co-chair.

Michelle has edited two books that include the writings of her great-grandmother: Ida In Her Own Words (2008) and Ida From Abroad (2010) – both of which are used as texts at several universities. For the past five years Michelle has worked with two other professors to co-edit an anthology of writings by African American women about the work and media portrayal of Michelle Obama. The book, Michelle Obama’s Impact on African American Women and Girls, is scheduled to be released by Palgrave-Macmillan sometime in 2018.

Annually, CCCTU Grievance VP CM! Winters non-profit (Black Women Speak) organizes an annual march in the honor of Ida B. Wells and place a wreath at her tomb at Oak Woods Cemetery. More information below about the life and legacy of Ida B. Wells:

Ida B. Wells, was an African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Wells was born a slave in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She lost her parents and a sibling in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic at the age of 16. She went to work as a school teacher to keep her family intact with the help of her grandmother. She and two of her sisters later moved to live with their aunt in Memphis, Tennessee where Ida found better pay for teachers.

In the 1890s, Wells documented lynching in the United States. She showed that lynching was often used in the South as a way to control or punish black people who competed with whites, rather than being based on criminal acts by black people, as was usually claimed by whites. She was active in women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement, establishing several notable women’s organizations. Wells was a skilled and persuasive rhetorician and traveled internationally on lecture tours.

Because of the threats to her life, Wells left Memphis and eventually moved to Chicago. She continued to wage her anti-lynching campaign and to write columns attacking Southern injustices. Her articles were published in amongst others, The New York Age newspaper.

Spending her life fighting social injustice, Wells worked on urban reform in Chicago during the last thirty years of her life. She also raised her family of four children and after her retirement, Wells began writing her autobiography. She never finished it as she died kidney failure in Chicago on March 25, 1931 at the age of 68. Her daughter, Alfreda Duster, completed the book, Crusade for Justice, and got it published by the University of Chicago Press in 1970.

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