Ida B. Wells And The History of Black Women In Chicago; U of I 150 Keynote Speaker Amitav Ghosh

July 05, 2018
Michelle Duster

In this Dec. 2, 2011 photo, Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells, holds a portrait of Wells in her home in Chicago's South Side. For six decades Wells was woven into the fabric of the South Side as the namesake of a public housing project that was home to thousands. Nearly a decade ago when the city razed the development and replaced it with new townhomes, Duster and her family worried the journalist, suffragist and anti-lynching crusader would be forgotten. Now, to mark the 150th anniversary of Wells' birth in 2012, an effort is under way to build a sculpture to honor her legacy at the site of the housing development.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

On this encore edition of the 21st: Remembering the history and legacy of Ida B. Wells and many other influential and inspirational black women in Chicago. Also, a conversation about climate change with Amitav Ghosh, an award-winning novelist who delivered the keynote at the University of Illinois 150 Conference.

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Those are the words of Ida B. Wells, a pioneering investigative journalist who was also one of the founders of the NAACP.

She was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862, but she moved to Memphis and eventually to Chicago. She was known for her journalism, which included documenting the many cases of lynching in the American South. She also fought for the right for women to vote and was one of the founders of the NAACP.

Her story is one of many in Chicago that’s being kept alive by new generations of activists and writers. We were joined by her great-grand daughter, Michelle Duster to talk about the life and legacy of Ida B. Wells, one of the most prominent black women in the history of Chicago.

We were also joined by Mariame Kaba and Essence McDowell, co-writers of a book called "Lifting As They Climbed: Mapping a History of Black Women on Chicago's South Side - A Self-Guided Tour." Kaba is an organizer, educator and founder of the non-profit group Project NIA which works to end youth incarceration. McDowell is a digital artist and communications strategist.

And—

The question of whether our culture is coming to grips with climate change was brought up by award-winning novelist Amitav Ghosh in his most recent non-fiction book, “The Great Derangement; Climate Change and the Unthinkable." In the book, he explores our inability to grasp what he calls the “scale and violence” of climate change.

Amitav is in Central Illinois was the keynote speaker at the Illinois 150 Conference. The three day conference is to celebrate U of I’s 150th anniversary.

He joined us in the studio to talk about his thoughts on climate change and cultural implications.