Ida B. Wells Plaza in Memphis is going to undergo renovations. What is planned?

A year ago — on the 159th birthday of Ida B. Wells — a statue of the journalist, educator and civil rights activist has been unveiled in Memphis at the intersection of Fourth and Beale streets.

On Saturday, people gathered to celebrate Wells’ 160th birthday with a big cake and glasses of champagne as they anticipated raising funds for the second phase of Ida B. Wells Plaza.

Ida B. Wells Memphis Memorial Committee member Rychetta Watkins said the $300,000 renovation will include more educational signs to share Wells’ history and accomplishments with tourists. There will also be more green space and seating areas that were shown in renders to event attendees.

“Wells wasn’t born in Memphis, but she became a Memphian,” Watkins said. “It’s the story of so many people today. We want people to be able to come here and read this story that they love Wells can come here and become a Memphian and have an impact that can change not just this city because Wells did it and can touch the world and leave a legacy that resonates 160 years later.

Members of the Ida B. Wells Memphis Memorial Committee open the second phase of the Ida B. Wells Plaza in downtown Memphis on Saturday, July 16.

Watkins expects renovations to the plaza to be completed this winter or early spring 2023 at the latest.

The Memphis Memorial Committee, in partnership with the Neshoba Community Resource Center, was the driving force behind Ida B. Wells Plaza. Earlier this year, the city renamed part of Fourth Street Ida B. Wells Street in her honor.

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The street passes his new bronze statue and the First Baptist Church, the site of his diary.

Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862, and moved to Memphis in 1882 and began teaching at Woodstock School in Shelby County.

A rendering of the renovations to Ida B. Wells Plaza in downtown Memphis was unveiled by the Ida B. Wells Memphis Memorial Committee on Saturday, July 16.

In 1892, three friends of Wells, grocery store owners in South Memphis, were lynched. Wells, who also taught at the school, began documenting lynchings in the United States.

In retaliation, the white power structure in Memphis destroyed her Memphis Free Speech and Headlight office and forced her to relocate, eventually to Chicago. Wells died at age 68 in 1931.

During the anniversary celebration, Tennessee House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, also introduced legislation passed this year declaring July 16 Ida B. Wells Day in the state.

Omar Yusuf covers the Ford project in Haywood County, residential real estate, tourism and banking for The Commercial Appeal. He can be contacted by email. [email protected] or follow on Twitter @OmerAYusuf.

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