Ida B. Wells documented the circumstances of the killings of Black people by white mobs in the U.S. and was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

A Memphis City Council committee will consider a resolution next week to approve a memorial statue on Beale Street for Black anti-lynching crusader and investigative journalist Ida B. Wells.

The Public Works, Solid Waste, and General Services Committee will consider the measure acknowledging the tenacious Wells’ fight against lynching, which began in Memphis, and for women’s suffrage. The resolution, sponsored by Councilman Jeff Warren, authorizes a memorial on the corner of Beale and Fourth Streets where Wells worked.

“Ida B. Wells spent forty-two years toiling to improve conditions for the most marginalized among us, it is now time that we recognize her invaluable contributions to local and national life by entreating Memphians and visitors alike to emulate her sense of selflessness within their own lives via a physical reminder of her life’s worthy pursuits,” the resolution reads.

Rev. LaSimba Gray, a member of the Memphis Memorial Committee that is raising money for the tribute, said the lifesize statue will be a part of a $250,000 project to commemorate the legacy of Wells. The group is halfway to its goal and has commissioned the statue, expecting to complete its fundraising by May. 

“We hope to make it a healing process. There’s a lot of pain around the way Ida B. Wells was treated,” Gray said. “A lot of pain and ill feelings toward Memphis because when the threat went out against Ida B. Wells, no one in law enforcement, no one in government stood up and said they would protect her.”

Wells moved from Holly Springs, Mississippi to Memphis in the 1880s after the Reconstruction Era where segregationist laws and mob-violence erased much of the progress of formerly enslaved people following the Civil War, including in politics and business. Wells, an outspoken advocate for fair treatment of Black people and women in American society, co-owned “The Free Speech and Headlight newspaper that operated out of Beale Street Baptist Church.

It was at the “Free Speech and Headlight” that Wells documented lynchings of Black men in Memphis. Infuriated by Wells’ reporting, white mobs destroyed her office and threatened her life if she didn’t leave the city. She resettled in Chicago, where she continued to expose violence and injustice against Black Americans and women.

The Public Works, Solid Waste, and General Services Committee will meet at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday. If the resolution is approved it will go to the full council for a vote.

Wells: Fearless and fiery

Ida B. Wells was a fiery, fearless speaker and writer. Here are some quotes from her writings and speeches. 

The mob spirit has grown with the increasing intelligence of the Afro-American. It has left the out-of-the-way places where ignorance prevails, has thrown off the mask and with this new cry stalks in broad daylight in large cities, the centers of civilization, and is encouraged by the ‘leading citizens’ and the press.”


Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an ‘unwritten law’ that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal.”


The City of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival.”


Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.”


The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”


The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”


The appeal to the white man’s pocket has ever been more effectual than all the appeals ever made to his conscience.”

Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at carrington.tatum@mlk50.com


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