February 11, 2019 was the ceremonial unveiling of the street signs honoring Ida B. Wells; it marks the official renaming of Congress Parkway between Grant Park and the expressway. This was the first official renaming of a Chicago street in several decades. The signs for Ida B. Wells Drive, the online maps, and identifiers on CTA buses were in place for several weeks before this event.
The official unveiling was attended by a few hundred people and was held in the Wintergarden of the Harold Washington Library. The new Ida B. Wells Drive borders the library to the south of the building.
Speakers included the sponsoring Aldermen Sophia King and Brendan Reilly; former Channel 7 newscaster Robin Robinson; Patricia Holmes of Harriet’s Daughter; Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton; Claire Hartfield of the League of Women Voters; Cook County President, Toni Preckwinkle; New York Times Journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones; Mayor Rahm Emanuel; the Great-Granddaughter of Ida B. Wells, Michelle Duster; and Chaz Ebert.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel reminded the audience that Congress Parkway was not the original name of the street. The street had originally been named for President Tyler, who was the only US President to have served in the Confederate Army. The street was renamed Congress Parkway, and now it is named for Ida B. Wells.
Ida B. Wells was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862. She was educated at Rust College (formerly Shaw University) and became a teacher, publisher, and an outspoken suffragist and civil rights activist. She successfully fought discrimination on public transportation in the court system. One of her unrecognized contributions was to the field of investigative journalism. She challenged the explanations behind lynchings and used public data to support her claims of discrimination. She moved to Chicago from Memphis after threats were made agains her life following the publication of her editorials.
This is the first official street in Chicago to be named for an African-American woman. It is a very prominent street since it is the terminus of the major east-west expressway. This street had been widened to accommodate traffic and to connect the western part of the city and the western suburbs to downtown. It is also the grand entrance to the site of the 1933 Century of Progress World Fair, which was held on what is now the Museum Campus and Northerly Island.
The Ida B. Wells Preparatory Elementary Academy in Chicago is named for her, as are schools in San Francisco, Seattle, and Memphis.
The house where Ida, her husband and children lived in Chicago is a national historic landmark, Ida B. Wells-Barnett House.
The former Ida B. Wells Homes, a group of public housing high-rise, mid-rise, and row houses were located in the Bronzeville neighborhood. These housing projects were built in 1939 and demolished by 2011.
Ida B. Wells Drive
The former Congress Parkway between Grant Park and the expressway
Neighborhood: Chicago Loop and South Loop
Alderman Brendan Reilly (Ward 42) and Alderman Sophia King (Ward 4)