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Aldermen approve renaming Congress Parkway for Ida B. Wells

Congress Parkway will be renamed in honor of Ida B. Wells under a proposal passed Thursday by the City Council's Transportation Committee, and headed toward full Council approval. | Sun-Times file photo

Ald. Sophia King (4th) said Thursday she’ll be “ecstatic” the first time somebody calls her, asks where she is and she can proudly proclaim, “I’m on Ida Drive.”

It won’t be long now.

The City Council’s Transportation Committee made certain of it Thursday, unanimously voting to rename Congress Parkway for Ida B. Wells to avoid a bitter battle with Italian-Americans triggered by the resurrected proposal to rename Balbo Drive.

It’s a long-overdue recognition for the journalist and anti-lynching crusader whose formidable civil rights work is credited with giving women in Illinois the right to vote 10 years ahead of women outside the state.

It’s also a lighter lift politically because it strips a widely-despised institution — the U.S. Congress — of the honor and because there are only “six-to-nine” impacted street addresses, including Roosevelt University, Robert Morris University and a building at Columbia College.

“A street like Congress Parkway doesn’t necessarily do her justice. But it’s a great street. I will be ecstatic when somebody calls me next and asks me where I am and I say, `I’m on Ida Drive. Where are you?’ “ she said.

King thanked her co-sponsor, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), for understanding the “historical significance of what it means to have a street, not only named after a woman, but a person of color.”

“It’s kind of bittersweet because the fact that there isn’t one in the downtown area just highlights that there hasn’t been one ever. It’s appropriate that we — as one city, one Chicago — are doing this,” King said.

Reilly hailed Wells as “one of Chicago’s true heroines” and said it’s past time that Wells gets the “recognition she deserves.”

“I look at this as a historic day. It’s one I’ll be proud of long after I’ve left public service. I look at this as a legacy that each of us can leave to the future generations of Chicago,” he said.

Katherine Murdock of the League of Women Voters of Chicago added, “Women are — we’re not really happy with what’s going on across this country and in other places. And we are desperate for a win. So we’re really, really all watching this just to get a little something to make us all happy.”

King and Reilly accepted the Congress compromise to avoid a divisive confrontation with Italian-Americans who didn’t want to see the street name stripped from Italo Balbo.

Italo Balbo was an Italian Air Force Marshal famous for making the first transatlantic crossing from Rome to Chicago and helping to bring Mussolini to power in 1922.

“We’re very grateful. That’s a great solution to the dilemma. It leaves Balbo intact,” Italian-American leader Dominic DiFrisco had said last month.

“We did not want to deny Ida B. Wells the honor she deserves. But, Balbo deserves the recognition he was given in 1933 confirmed by every mayor since. Charlatan historians were beginning to raise incredibly erroneous facts about Balbo. The Italian-American community can now breathe a great sigh of relief.”