By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
It intersects all the major interstate highways and streets that are named after presidents and prominent figures, including the late Mayor Harold Washington. Now, Congress Parkway will be renamed after crusading journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett under a proposed ordinance introduced on June 26.
Members of the Chicago’s City Council’s Transportation Committee announced that it will send the proposal to the City Council for final approval.
Michelle Duster, Wells-Barnett’s great-granddaughter, released a statement to the Crusader in response to the committee’s decision.
“I am happy and relieved that the city of Chicago has decided to honor my great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, in a way that is befitting to the contributions she made [to] the city, country and world. During her lifetime, she worked tirelessly for decades to fight for justice and equality for all. As an American-born woman who lived in Chicago for over three decades, all Chicagoans, as well as visitors should be able to remember who she was, what she did and celebrate her. I appreciate all who helped to make the re-naming of Congress Parkway into Ida B.Wells-Barnett. This is a great start to women in general and African-American women, in particular, getting their proper recognition and acknowledgment in this country.”
Ald. Sophia King (4th) said the Congress Parkway is definitely a bigger street than Balbo, and it recognizes the great accomplishments of Wells-Barnett. She went on to say Congress Parkway is an appropriate street “that goes down the middle of the city.”
If passed, the ordinance would be a victory for activists in Chicago, but especially in the Black community where Wells-Barnett lived at 3624 S. King Drive in a three-story greystone that’s now a Chicago landmark.
For a Black pioneer whose only namesake monument was a demolished housing project, Wells-Barnett’s name may grace one of Chicago’s most prominent and significant roadways that is considered a civic gateway to the city.
What seemed like a losing battle to honor Wells-Burnett is suddenly growing into a successful campaign to establish a fitting tribute to a woman whose legacy threatened to fade 87 years after her death.
Wednesday’s decision was considered a compromise that ended a brewing battle between activists and the city’s Italian-American leaders who were opposed to renaming Balbo Drive after Wells-Barnett.
Supporters of Wells-Barnett said Balbo Drive should be renamed not only because of Italo Balbo’s ties to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, but also because Wells-Barnett had no monument or street named after her despite her significant contributions to her race, Chicago and America.
The battle intensified last week when the item was left off the agenda of the Transportation Committee. While the move upset activists, Black aldermen scrambled behind the scenes to come up with a quality solution that would satisfy Blacks and Italians and avoid a political backlash during an election season.
While both sides are pleased with the proposal, supporters of Wells-Barnett may end up with the better deal.
Opened in 1956 under Mayor Richard J. Daley, Congress Parkway is a major street that also serves as a highway and a street. Over a mile long, the highway portion of Congress Parkway intersects the Kennedy (I-90), Eisenhower and the Dan Ryan (I-94). It serves as a street starting from Wells and runs past State Street, Michigan Avenue and ends at Columbus Drive in Grant Park.
With picturesque landscaping and landmarks, such as the Harold Washington Library and Buckingham Fountain, Congress Parkway is one of the most significant and attractive streets in the city. If the proposal is approved, Wells-Barnett’s name would not only grace street signs, but those on the state’s three major highways at the Jane Byrne Interchange.
Born in Holly Springs, MS, in 1862, Wells-Barnett spent much of her life documenting thousands of lynchings throughout the South. An investigative journalist, she filled a void at a time when white newspapers did not cover the murders of Black residents. After she moved to Chicago, Wells-Barnett fought for better housing conditions as hund- reds of thousands of Blacks moved to the city during the Great Migration.
Wells-Barnett died in 1931 and is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery, along with her husband, Ferdinand Lee Barnett.