At the annual Freedom Fund Banquet of the NAACP Evanston/North Shore on Nov. 17, keynote speaker Michelle Duster spoke about the powerful influence that her great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells – who was born into slavery in 1862 and whose life spanned from the Civil War to the Great Depression – has had on her life.

Despite suffering the loss of both parents and a sibling to yellow fever when she was just 16 years old and having to take on the role of parent to her remaining siblings, Ms. Wells succeeded in becoming a journalist, suffragist and civil rights activist.

Ms. Duster, who is herself an author and educator, believes it is essential that the contributions of women and African Americans have made to the United States be told in a more complete and accurate way. To that end, she has worked to preserve Ms. Wells’s legacy.

At a time when women did not even have the right to vote, Ms. Wells attended college, began a career as a journalist and became co-owner of a newspaper that focused on the lawlessness of lynching.

“She realized that the terrorism going through the South was about economics and power. They were set against Blacks acquiring wealth and property,” Ms. Duster said.

Ms. Wells ran for State Senate in 1930, only 10 years after women received the right to vote. She also became a co-founder of the organization that is now the NAACP.

Honored with NAACP Community Service Awards, presented by NAACP Evanston/North Shore President Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors and Judith Treadway, were The Officer and Gentlemen Academy, Nikko Ross, Monique B. Jones, Gerri Sizemore, Evanston Own It (Pastor Zollie Webb) and Hillside Church (food pantry).

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.