Crusader Staff Report
She was a crusading journalist and unsung hero who made significant contributions to Chicago, but there are no monuments or streets in the city that honor Ida B. Wells 87 years after her death.
The descendants and supporters of the Black pioneer were disappointed when the proposed ordinance to rename Balbo Drive after Wells was left off of the agenda. The move left the City Council committee unable to vote on the proposal during its meeting on Wednesday, June 20, prolonging a battle to honor the legacy of a Black woman who has largely been forgotten in Chicago.
Fifteen aldermen are on the Transportation Committee, including Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), Jason Earvin (28th Ward) and Alderman Sophia King (4th Ward) and Alderman Anthony Beale who is the Transportation Committee Chairman.
Last month, Alderman King proposed renaming the street after Wells. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has stood silent on the proposal.
Activists want Balbo Drive renamed after Wells, but the movement has stirred tension in Chicago’s Italian community, which wants the street in the Loop to remain that way. Balbo Drive is named after General Italo Balbo who led a squadron of Italian airplanes across the Atlantic Ocean from Rome to Chicago for the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.
Balbo also has a monument in Burnham Park near Soldier Field. But the monument has drawn protests and heavy criticism from activists who want the monument removed because of reports that say that Balbo was a supporter of the fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862, Wells 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 failed to cover the murders of Black residents. She later moved to Chicago and lived at 3624 S. King Drive. The home today is a Chicago landmark. During her life in Chicago, Wells fought for better housing conditions as hundreds of thousands of Blacks moved to the city during the Great Migration.
Wells died in 1931 and is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery along with her husband, Ferdinand Lee Barnett. The namesake Ida B. Wells housing projects on King Drive near her home were demolished in 2011. Activists say the proposed street naming ordinance is a way to educate future generations about her contributions and legacy to Blacks in Chicago and America.
If Balbo Drive is renamed after Wells, it would be the first official street name change in Chicago since 1968, when the city renamed South Park Way for Martin Luther King Jr.
Beale in the Chicago Tribune said he decided not to include the proposal on the agenda because “I think we want to do right by everyone in this situation.”
In the story in the Tribune, Beale was asked whether pressure came from Emanuel’s office to hold off on the proposal. Beale said he simply wants to “take more time to try to find an agreement that avoids angering anyone.”
Beale told the Crusader the Tribune story wasn’t accurate and said that “there are discussions being held where we are trying to find common ground. There are a lot of people upset about this.”
When asked to elaborate, Beale referred the reporter to Alderman King. But King said she was disappointed that item was not on the agenda. She told the Crusader that public should be able to voice their input at public hearings.
“The will of the people should be heard. As public officials, we will always have to make tough decisions,” she said. “You can’t please everyone.”