Commercial Appeal makes donation towards Ida B. Wells statue effort in Memphis
More than 100 years after Ida B. Wells wrote for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper, The Commercial Appeal is seeking to honor the groundbreaking African American civil rights advocate and journalist by making a $10,000 donation toward a local effort to install a statue of Wells on Beale Street.
“The CA was eager to donate to the committee planning the statue of Ida B. Wells,” said Mark Russell, The CA’s executive editor. “It is long overdue for Memphis to recognize Wells’ work as a pioneering journalist and civil rights icon who fought racism, segregation and lynchings.”
The Pulitzer Prizes this year posthumously awarded Wells a special citation for “outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”
The Memphis Memorial Committee, in partnership with the Neshoba Community Resource Center, is working to raise $200,000, which will go toward purchasing and installing the statue as well as creating a memorial area surrounding it at the corner of Beale and Fourth. Extra funds will go to the Ida B. Wells Foundation of Chicago.
The group is approaching $50,000 raised. Once that amount is raised, they have been given a $50,000 matching grant, which will bring the total to $100,000, said Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., who along with educator, author and civil rights activist Miriam DeCosta-Willis launched the idea for the statue.
The plan is to install the statue on Wells' birthday, July 16, in 2021.
Russell added that the donation from The Commercial Appeal was also a “fitting bookend to the shameful role the Memphis Commercial (a predecessor to The Commercial Appeal) and its top editor, Edward Ward Carmack, played in forcing Wells to leave Memphis in 1892.”
Carmack, among the most outspoken voices criticizing Wells at the time, demanded that white citizens retaliate against “the black wench” for her editorials against lynchings.
Carmack would later become a U.S. senator and then go on to edit the Nashville Tennessean. Like The Commercial Appeal, the Tennessean is part of the USA Today Network).
Wells, born in Mississippi, moved to Memphis in 1884 where she taught school and then co-owned and wrote for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper.
After three friends of hers — grocery store owners in South Memphis — were lynched, Wells began to document lynchings in the United States.
That didn’t sit well with the white power structure in Memphis, who destroyed her office and forced her to relocate, ultimately to Chicago.