The immediate skyline will look a little different for residents of the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois. This week, a monument honoring civil rights activist, journalist, and suffragist Ida B. Wells was unveiled, and its towering and complex profile is intended to mimic the stature Wells had in Chicago and beyond.
The Light of Truth Ida B. Wells National Monument, the first in Chicago to pay tribute to a Black woman, was created by sculptor Richard Hunt and comes after the Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee pursued several years of crowdfunding to raise the $300,000 needed. The sculpture features quotes and information about Wells, as well as her likeness on the base.
The abstract nature of the monument suits Wells, according to her great-granddaughter Michelle Duster. “We made a decision before we even contacted Richard that we wanted to have something that would not be in her likeness,” Duster told WTTW. “We wanted it to be a monument vs. a statue because Ida’s life and her work was so multi-dimensional, so multi-layered that we felt trying to capture one pose would not capture all of who she was.”
Born in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells and members of her family were enslaved. After the Civil War, Wells was free to take up activism. She sued the Chesapeake, Ohio & Southwestern Railroad Company for discrimination in the mid-1880s after being thrown off a train despite having a first-class passenger ticket. (She won, though the ruling was overturned in federal court.) As a journalist, she wrote a series of reports on lynchings. After one such piece composed while living in Memphis, Wells was essentially driven out of town and landed in Chicago in 1893. She spent the rest of her life advocating for equal rights and was outspoken about both racial and sexual discrimination up until her death at age 68 on March 25, 1931. Wells was also the recipient of a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020.
The monument came as a result of Chicago’s demolition of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Ida B. Wells homes in 2011. (The homes, which had been built beginning in 1941, had fallen into disrepair.) The monument sits on the former site of the housing development. In 2019, the city renamed its Congress Parkway as Ida B. Wells Drive.