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Ida B. Wells’ latest honor: a Barbie doll

The doll is set to hit stores Monday. According to Barbie’s Twitter account, it is part of Mattel’s Inspiring Women series, intended to highlight “heroes who inspire us to dream big.”

Mattel announced it will release an Ida B. Wells Barbie doll on Jan. 17.
Mattel announced it will release an Ida B. Wells Barbie doll on Jan. 17.
Mattel photo via Twitter

Activist, suffragist, journalist — Ida B. Wells was one who fought injustices throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Now, more than 90 years after her death, the NAACP co-founder will be honored by Mattel with her own Barbie doll.

The doll, which is set to hit stores Monday, features Wells in a navy blue dress with a high collar, low-heeled boots and her natural hair swept back from her face.

“We are incredibly proud to welcome pioneering civil rights activist and suffragist Ida B. Wells to the Barbie Inspiring Women line, so kids can learn more about the great strides she made toward equality during her lifetime,” Lisa McKnight, Mattel’s senior vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls, said in a company statement.

“It is so important for kids to be exposed to role models like Ida B. Wells to remind them that they are powerful and can make a difference in the world.”

The doll, according to Barbie’s Twitter account, is part of Mattel’s Inspiring Women series, “spotlighting heroes who inspire us to dream big.”

That message was reinforced in a statement on the Barbie Instagram account:

“When kids learn about heroes like Ida B. Wells, they don’t just imagine a better future – they know they have the power to make it come true.”

The Ida B. Wells monument by Richard Hunt is unveiled at East 37th Street and South Langley Avenue in Bronzeville on the South Side, Wednesday morning, June 30, 2021.
The Ida B. Wells monument by Richard Hunt was unveiled in June at East 37th Street and South Langley Avenue.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Wells was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862 and, after her parents’ death when she was 16, began teaching to support herself and siblings.

Her life of activism began when she was 22, when she was thrown off a train for refusing to sit in the African American designated seats.

Wells’ activism included leading a crusade against the barbaric lynching of African Americans by racist whites across the Jim Crow South in the 1890s. In 2020, her work was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize in Special Citations and Awards.

She was part-owner of the Memphis Free Speech newspaper, in which her anti-lynching reporting appeared. Images of the new Barbie doll holding issues of that newspaper were posted on Twitter as part of the announcement.

Michelle Duster, Wells’ great granddaughter, said in a statement it is an “incredible honor” to have her great grandmother represented in the doll line.

Duster, a historian and author, added that she hopes the doll and her own books will help people learn and be inspired by Wells’ legacy.

“She used her voice in every way she could to fight for freedom, justice, and equality,” said Duster. “And her work as well as her story is relevant and inspiring for today’s world. My brother Dan and I worked with Mattel to make the doll as authentic and historically accurate as possible and I am so happy to see the level of excitement people have about it.”

Wells joins a host of other historical Black women Mattel has highlighted over the years, including Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and Ella Fitzgerald.

Wells also wrote for the Chicago Defender newspaper. She died in Chicago in 1931, and has been honored with a monument in Bronzeville, unveiled last year. Also, in 2019, Congress Parkway in the South Loop was renamed Ida B. Wells Parkway.

Ida B. Wells.
Ida B. Wells, an activist, journalist and abolitionist, will now have her image on a Barbie doll, as well.
Sun-Times print collection