Updated: Nov 4, 2020
By Lois Charm
Leaders of the Neshoba Community Resource Center have released a proposal to build a memorial statue for the late anti-lynching advocate and journalist, Ida B. Wells.
Wells played a pivotal role in helping to bring awareness to the injustices facing African Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862 and moved to Memphis as an adult to work as an educator. She later joined Reverend R. Nightingale, late pastor of the Beale Street Baptist Church, and published the Freedom Speech and Headlight newspapers. In 1892, three friends of Wells were lynched on false charges, and she published the crimes in both newspapers in hopes of shedding light on the heinous practice of lynching.
Due to her activism in Memphis, her life was threatened, and her office on Beale Street was destroyed. As a result, Wells moved to New York, then later Chicago, where she continued her work as a journalist and crusader against lynching.
Under the leadership of Mariam DeCosta Willis and Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray, Jr., the Neshoba Community Resources Center decided that a memorial statue of Wells should stand on Beale Street in honor of her courageous work in Memphis and the rest of the South.
Dr. Gray said that a conversation about community honors with Dr. Willis inspired the decision to honor the late Ida. B. Wells.
“Dr. Miriam DeCosta Willis and I got together in December of 2019, and we were talking about some overdue honors and Ida B. Wells' name came up,” he said. “She and I quickly agreed that this is a project worthy of pursuing. We formed a committee and brought in a team of professional fundraisers, and now we’re waiting for the sculpture artist to update us with the second viewing of what her concept is going to be.”
Gray and his colleagues made sure to get the approval of Wells’ living relatives before moving on with the project.
“Her great-granddaughter is over the Ida B. Wells Foundation in Chicago, and she has given us her blessings on this project, and without her blessing, we could not have moved forward with it,” he said.
Other members of the committee are David and Yvonne Acey, who are directors of the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival, Inc.
David Acey helped finalize the decision to have the memorial placed at Robert R. Church Park.
“I convinced the committee members that the only place the statue could be was at Robert R. Church Park, right at South Fourth Street and Beale Street,” he said. “It was agreed upon unanimously and that’s where we will erect the bronze statue of Ida B. Wells.”
Gray said the committee is now in the process of confirming with City of Memphis leaders and the Downtown Memphis Development Corporation where they want to put the monument and explained the significance of putting it at South Fourth Street and Beale Street.
“Wells started her work there,” he said. “She worked in the Beale Street Baptist Church and did a newspaper out of that building and attended worship at First Baptist Beale, so that’s an ideal spot.”
In addition to collaborating with community leaders to finalize the memorial’s location, the committee has also been active fundraising.
The Aceys shared about how the community has made contributions towards the memorial.
“Right now we have commitments from over 100 people with various amounts of donations, and those donations should be coming in from now until the end of the year,” Yvonne said.
“First we want to raise $250,000 and we’re well on our way to doing that,” David said. “We also have certain people that are contacting donors, starting at $50,000 all the way down to $1.”
As the committee works to complete their goal with the memorial, members plan on inviting Wells’ living relatives to participate in the unveiling ceremony.
“She has relatives that live in Memphis,” Yvonne Acey said. “Her grand niece and great grand niece live in Whitehaven. We’re going to invite the family to the unveiling ceremony. It's going to be Ida B. Wells’ family time to honor her story in Memphis and show the world it’s Ida B. Wells time in Memphis. We’re letting everyone join the celebration to recognize her.”
Yvonne shared how she believes Wells’ paved the way for women in leadership today.
“When you see Ida B. Wells, you see courage, determination, steadfastness and initiative,” she said. “If you think about what is going on around the world with women today in leadership roles, from the White House to the Mississippi House of Representatives, they exemplify her qualities to everybody throughout the world.”
Dr. Gray shared his thoughts on what he would like people who view the memorial to take away from it.
“I would like for them to know there are always benefits from acts of courage,” he said. “If you do right the rest of it will take care of itself. That's what I want people who see this statue to be under the impression of: that courage pays and you can never lose doing right.”
Lois Charm is a freelance journalist for Writing by Design Media, Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.