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Congress Parkway renamed in honor of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells

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Ida B. Wells Drive is the city’s first downtown street named for African-American woman

Jay Koziarz

On Monday, Chicago officials and community leaders convened in the 9th floor winter garden of the Harold Washington Library to formally unveil street signs for Ida B. Wells Drive—formerly Congress Parkway.

With its rededication, Ida B. Wells Drive becomes Chicago’s first downtown street to be named after an African-American woman. It’s also the city’s first official street name change since South Park Way became Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Born a slave in 1860’s Mississippi, Ida B. Wells rose to prominence as an anti-lynching journalist after the Civil War. Later settling in Chicago, she continued her work and played a key role in the civil rights, women's rights, and women’s suffrage movements up until her death in 1931.

At Monday’s dedication ceremony, keynote speaker Chaz Ebert retold the emotional experience of seeing the street’s new name as she looked up travel times to the library earlier that morning.

“[My daughter and I] were practically in tears. She said ‘Mom took at this, already, it says to turn down Ida Drive,’” recalled Ebert, as the room erupted in applause. “Now, on all of our maps, our navigation systems, and to our lost tourists—everybody—we will tell them to turn down Ida Drive.”

The ordinance to officially rename Congress Parkway earned the approval of the Chicago City Council back in July. Before that, local aldermen Sophia King and Brendan Reilly pushed to rename nearby Balbo Drive after Ida B. Wells.

Jay Koziarz
Jay Koziarz