Shelby County and Memphis Plan Ida B. Wells Day in 2020

County commissioners in Shelby County, Tennessee voted to dedicate a day to Ida B. Wells-Barnett during her birthday month. Shelby County’s seat is Memphis, where some of Wells’ most important Civil Rights work occurred.

The county commission passed an ordinance on July 22 to honor the journalist and activist with a commemorative day starting on July 16, 2020, WATN reported. Shelby County commissioner Tami Sawyer announced the news on Twitter after the resolution passed.

“It’s official! July 16 is now and forever more Ida B. Wells — Barnett day in Shelby County, TN. This was her home. This is where she did some of her most important work. THIS is the day we should be celebrating in July. I look forward to July 16, 2020!” Sawyer wrote.

Born on July 16, 1862, the activist was born into slavery in Mississippi during the Civil War. Wells-Barnett’s parents, who became politically involved during the Reconstruction Era following the war, died in 1878. Her parent's death led her to move to Memphis, Tennessee where she became an educator to take care of her siblings.

Throughout her career, Wells-Barnett fought injustice. After one of her friends was lynched, she began to investigate the lynchings of Black men throughout the nation and published those stories in local newspapers. One of the articles she wrote in 1892 enraged the white residents of Memphis and she was forced to move to Chicago.

The journalist took her findings on lynching and traveled the world discussing the issue. Wells-Barnett also “openly confronted white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching. Despite being criticized by women in the suffrage movement for her point of views, Wells-Barnett remained active in the women’s rights movement and started the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, according to the museum website. She was also in Niagara Falls during the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Sawyer, who is also a candidate for the mayor of Memphis, told The North Star that Tennessee is where Wells-Barnett wrote a lot of her articles, noting that she wrote about racial violence in the state, which still continues to happen.

“She’s a personal heroine of mine,” Sawyer said. “Last year I went down to her childhood home and I am happy to be able to pass this resolution.”

This is not the first time a city has honored the journalist. Earlier this month, the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum in Holly Springs, Mississippi marked her birthday with celebrations on July 12 and July 13. The party’s theme, which was called “Building on the Past, Focusing on the Future,” included special events and exhibits to commemorate Wells-Barnett, according to a press release from the museum. During the celebrations on July 13, a historical marker was unveiled in the northeast corner of the Marshall County Courthouse lawn to honor the activist.

Michelle Duster, Wells-Barnett’s great-granddaughter, previously told The North Star that she is proud the town where her great-grandmother grew up would continue to honor her legacy with a historical marker.

“She was an amazing woman who dedicated her life to the fight for equality, justice, and the power of the truth,” Duster said in a statement. “She spent her childhood in Holly Springs, so the town shaped her, educated her, and provided an environment for her to develop her political and social sensibilities. She represents the power of sticking with and believing in one’s convictions. Hopefully, by learning about and celebrating her, all who come in contact with her story will be inspired by how much of an impact one person can make.”

Wells-Barnett’s later in life home of Chicago also honored her in February with a street name, The Chicago Tribune previously reported. Congress Parkway was renamed Ida B. Wells Drive in downtown Chicago and is the first major Chicago street to bear the name of an African American woman.

Alderman Sophia King of the 4th Ward and Alderman Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward were the ones who pushed the street sign to happen, The Chicago Tribune reported. During the unveiling of the new sign, King called her “an original boss.”

“She spoke truth to power and changed the landscape of Chicago and the world,” King said, according to the publication. “It’s bittersweet that [it] has taken so long. But we are here.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.