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City Council renames Congress Parkway to honor civil rights leader Ida B. Wells

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An earlier plan had proposed putting Wells’s name on Balbo Drive

The newly renamed Ida B. Wells Drive.
Google Street View

Chicago’s City Council passed an ordinance to rename Congress Parkway in honor of civil rights activist, anti-lynching journalist, and women’s suffrage leader Ida B. Wells. Stretching from S. Columbus Drive to just east of S. Franklin Street, the newly rechristened Ida B. Wells Drive represents the first street in downtown Chicago to be named for a woman of color.

“I’m proud to have co-sponsored this important measure with Alderman King to give Ida B. Wells the recognition she deserves,” said 42nd Ward Alderman Reilly in an email to residents on Friday. “She was a courageous leader of the women’s suffrage movement and a tireless advocate for justice. Ida B. Wells has an important place in Chicago’s history, and now has a prominent street in downtown Chicago to honor her memory.”

An earlier ordinance, also introduced by King and Reilly, sought to honor Wells by instead renaming nearby Balbo Drive. Originally named 7th Street, the roadway was dedicated to Italian aviator Italo Balbo after he led a squadron of seaplanes on a transatlantic flight from Rome to Chicago for the city’s 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair. The name proved controversial given Bablo’s role as a fascist organizer and marshal in dictator Benito Mussolini’s air force.

The aldermen’s plans faced some opposition from Italian-American civic groups who argued that Balbo’s historic flight was separate from his politics and that any renaming of the roadway should honor a different, non-fascist Italian-American. Both King and Reilly are open to that idea in the future, reported the Chicago Tribune. There continues to be ongoing debate regarding the future of Chicago’s Balbo Monument set in Burnham Park near Soldier Field.

Alderman King and Alderman Reilly stand with descendants of Ida B. Wells and representatives of the League of Women Voters of Chicago following the City Council’s vote to rename Congress Parkway.
42nd Ward

Although Congress Parkway’s new name can already be seen online in places like Google Maps, it will be at least 30 days before the physical street signs reflect the change. This month’s City Council vote represents the first official street name change in Chicago since South Park Way was renamed to memorialize Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Ida B. Well Drive extends west to the start of the Eisenhower Expressway and could make for a somewhat confusing intersection where it crosses Wells Street—the existing north-south roadway named for Army Captain William Wells who died at the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812.