Home History 81-Year-Old Chicago Southsider Walks in the Footsteps of Iconic Journalist Ida B....

81-Year-Old Chicago Southsider Walks in the Footsteps of Iconic Journalist Ida B. Wells

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Midge Kimberly Chicago Southsider
Midge Kimberly, Photo Crdit: Rhinehart Media Group

Chicago Southsider celebrated the birthday of Ida B. Wells on Saturday, July 16.

My 81-year-old great aunt and I walked in the footsteps of Ida B. Wells while in Bronzeville. We explored what it meant for Wells to grow up during the Reconstruction Era, and become a prominent investigative journalist who exposed the truth about the lynchings in the south.

Ida B. Wells house in Chicago
The Ida B. Wells-Barnett home located on 3624 S. King Drive, Photo Credit: Charlene Rhinehart, Rhinehart Media Group

Ida B. Wells worked in Chicago for over 35 years. She lived in a Bronzeville greystone located at 3624 S. King Drive, formerly known as Grand Boulevard, with her husband Ferdinand Lee Barnett from 1919-1930.

Mr. Barnett was a prominent lawyer and founder of the Chicago Conservator, Chicago’s first locally-recognized Black newspaper.

They married in 1895, had four children together, and worked as civil rights activists.

Reading about a historical figure is one thing, but walking in their footsteps is a different feeling.

I moved to the Bronzeville community after graduating from DePaul University, and had no idea I was only a few steps away from the home of an iconic journalist, researcher, and educator. The Wells-Barnett home was less than a mile away from the place where I spent my days researching community development in Chicago.

The Ida B. Wells-Barnett home was added to the National Register of Historic Places, becoming a National Historic Landmark in 1974. The City Council named the home a Chicago landmark in 1995.

The home is now a private residence, but includes a customized Chicago tribute in front of the property.

Creating Opportunities in Chicago and Beyond

My great aunt always says “destiny has a route.”

As I was walking down King Drive with her, I couldn’t help but think about the route my ancestors took to pave the way for future generations.

Aunt Midge Kimberly Hand Up Ida B. Wells
The Ida B. Wells Homes Marker around 37th & King Drive, Photo Credit: Charlene Rhinehart, Rhinehart Media Group

My aunt, Midge Kimberly, was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She came to Chicago in 1945, the same year as the end of World War II.

She attended Dusable High School on 4934 S. Wabash, which was a few blocks away from her home on 50th Michigan. She wanted to attend South Shore High School — one of the best high schools on the South Side during that time — but the city boundaries made it impossible to attend a school outside her neighborhood.

My aunt went on to Chicago State, where she enrolled in the night program and graduated with a degree in Sociology and Psychology in 1974. At that time, she was married with five children.

In order to expand her opportunities, she pursued an MBA at DePaul University in 1977.

During my aunt’s career, she did public relations for major corporations, traveled around the world with world class athletes, and started her own publication, Champagne & Beyond, to profile women worldwide. She has mentored hundreds of aspiring media professionals through the National Association of Black Journalists.

While reflecting on my aunt’s story in Chicago, I kept wondering if she walked the same steps as Ida B. Wells.

Wells was born enslaved on July 16, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, a few years before the end of the American Civil War (1861-1865).

She moved to Chicago in 1894, continued her anti-lynching movement, and created many opportunities for those in Chicago.

Wells accomplishments are truly inspiring — especially if you explore what was going on in history and race relations during that time. In her early years, she traveled throughout Great Britain and the United States, delivering anti-lynching lectures. She also contributed to many Black publications, and later bought a third share of The Memphis Free Speech. She also became part-owner of Headlight and Free Speech.

Walking the Steps of Ida B. Wells

If you ever visit the Bronzeville community in Chicago, you can visit the places where Ida B. Wells left her impact.

She organized the Ida B. Wells Women’s Club, established the first Black kindergarten in Chicago in 1897, and started the Negro Fellowship League in 1910.

If you head to 37th & King Drive streets, you’ll be standing on the plot of land where the Ida B. Wells Homes once stood.

These homes, a public housing project of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), were constructed between 1939–41. There were over 1,600 units — a mix of rowhouses, mid-rise and high-rise apartment buildings, designed to house Black families.

In 2002, the demolition of the Ida B. Wells homes paved the way for Oakwood Shores, a mixed-income housing community.

My great Aunt never had the chance to visit the Ida B. Wells homes when they were standing from 1941-2002.

Now, twenty years after the homes were torn down, we can reflect on what it means to walk in the footsteps of iconic journalist and newspaper editor Ida B. Wells.

Have you walked the footsteps of Ida B. Wells in Chicago? Comment below and let us know! We would love to share your story.

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Midge and Ida B. Wells
The Ida B. Wells Homes Marker around 37th & King Drive

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