“Ida represented the community, and it means a lot to have the community embrace this,” Wells’ great-granddaughter said Wednesday.
BRONZEVILLE — For Ephelia Thomas, Wednesday was a homecoming.
The 83-year-old grandmother once lived in the Ida B. Wells Homes in Bronzeville. She raised her children there. She can still recall the moments when her community rallied around her in times of distress.
So she was overcome with emotion as she returned to the boulevard at 37th Street and Langley Avenue for the unveiling of a monument honoring the civil rights and journalism icon, once again being amongst the community that worked for 13 years to make the towering tribute a reality.
“All the people you see here are family,” Thomas said. “This happened because we were determined to make it happen.”
Credit: Colin Boyle – Block Club Chicago
“Light of Truth” was created by world-renowned sculptor Richard Hunt. The 20-foot-tall structure bears images and quotes from the suffragette, and stands on the site of the Ida B. Wells Homes, which were demolished in 2011, a few blocks from where Wells lived most of her life.
Siblings Michelle Duster and Daniel Duster spent years working on the project honoring their great-grandmother. The Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee — along with local officials like Ald. Sophia King (4th) and former Ald. Shirley Newsome — raised $300,000 for the project, which coincided with other efforts to honor Wells, including renaming Congress Parkway in 2019.
“I’m so happy that Richard Hunt created an amazing piece of artwork in our community in tribute to one of the leaders of our country, and it’s amazing to see the community come out to see it,” Michelle Duster said. “Ida represented the community, and it means a lot to have the community embrace this.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, author Jacqueline Woodsen and New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones were among those paying homage during a dedication ceremony at the Oakwood Center, 3825 S. Vincennes Ave.
“In the name of Ida B Wells and so many others, the fight must continue,” Lightfoot said. “We must say her name and the names of every other person who has made an impact, profoundly on the history of Chicago, particularly Black and Brown residents. Our obligation is to make sure we live up to the legacy of Ida B. Wells. We owe that to her.”
The monument’s completion comes as cities throughout the country are grappling with who and how they honor historic figures, particularly those who oppressed Black, Indigenous and other nonwhite people. Hannah-Jones, who spearheaded “The 1619 Project,” urged people to “fill the empty spaces left behind with true Americans who actually fought for the ideas of liberty and freedom.”
On the West Side, a young students spent three years pushing the Chicago Park District to rename their local park for abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray Douglass, and not for the senator who defended states’ rights to uphold slavery. That effort helped establish a new process for the park district to review and potentially change the names of other parks throughout the city.