Ida B. Wells Being Honored At Union Station In D.C.
Ida B. Wells is being honored at Union Station in Washington D.C., which, before the coronavirus pandemic, was one of the busiest train stations in the country.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment in 1920 granting a woman’s right to vote in the U.S. (it would be several decades later for Black women and other women of color to receive the same right), a mural of Ida B. Wells is being installed on the floor of the station.
Anna Laymon, Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission Executive Director, told CNN, “What we are able to do with this art installation is that we can show the depths of this movement. It wasn’t just one woman who fought for the right to vote, it was thousands.”
The mosaic is 1,000 sq ft and was commissioned by the Women’s Suffrage Centennial. The mural is titled “Our Story: Portraits of Change” and was designed by artist Helen Marshall of the People’s Picture. Within Wells’ image, there also smaller images of countless other women suffragists and activists who fought for the right to vote.
Wells receiving this honor at a train station is quite befitting. In May of 1884, while on her way to take classes at Fisk University, Wells was on a train headed to Nashville, Tennessee. She was asked by a train conductor to move from her seat in a ladies’ car into a smoking car. After Wells refused to move, she was physically forced by a group of men and removed from her seat.
The incident spurred her to file a lawsuit against the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad company. Wells won the case and was awarded $500. Unfortunately, her victory was short lived as the company appealed the verdict and the case went to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The court reversed the decision and ruled that Wells attempted to cause the railway “difficulty” by not following the conductor’s orders.
Wells’s case received national attention as it was the first of its kind. She used the opportunity to begin writing about the experience for The Living Way, a Black church newspaper. The article’s popularity landed her a column called the “Iola.”
This sparked Wells’s writing career. In the months to come, she began publishing articles in Black newspapers across the country. By 1889, she became part-owner and editor of a Memphis publication called Free Speech and Headlight.
Her influence, boldness, and unapologetic demeanor have created a legacy that continues to influence many Black women journalists today.