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It’s official: Congress Parkway to be renamed after Ida B. Wells

Crusader Staff Report

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday, July 25 voted to rename Congress Parkway after Ida B. Wells-Barnett, capping an intense campaign to honor the journalist and civil rights activist.

Congress Parkway from the Eisenhower Expressway to Columbus Drive in Grant Park will be renamed after Wells-Barnett.

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Ida B. Wells-Barnett

“This moment today is a historical moment, but a bittersweet moment,” said Alderman Sophia King (4th), who sponsored the ordinance along with Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd). “Ida B. Wells was a phenomenal woman. She did things at a time when her life was at risk.”

During her speech, King said Wells-Barnett’s great grandchildren were at City Hall earlier in the morning, but it was uncertain whether they were in the building when the ordinance passed.

The move was a victory for supporters and activists in the Black community, where Wells-Barnett lived at 3624 S. King Drive in a three-story greystone that’s now a Chicago landmark.

Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) as Chairman of the Committee on Transportation supported the effort to rename Congress Parkway after Wells-Barnett. Behind the scenes, Alderman King and Alderman Reilly, with help from the League of Women Voters of Chicago (who brought together almost 60 other organizations in support of this project), and Ida B. Wells’s family came up with the option to rename Congress Parkway after Ida B. Wells-Barnett.

Supporters of Wells-Barnett had 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.

Opened in 1956 under Mayor Richard J. Daley, Congress Parkway is a major street that also serves as a highway.  Over a mile long, the highway portion of Congress Parkway intersects the Kennedy (I-90), Eisenhower (I-290) 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. 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 hundreds 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.

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