Chicago Honors Ida B. Wells

Photo: Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago

Yesterday was an important day in Chicago – Congress Parkway between Grant Park and the Eisenhower Expressway is now officially renamed Ida B. Wells Drive.  Congratulations to Chicago and to the family, especially Michelle Duster, her great-granddaughter who worked so hard to make this happen. The city council made the change months ago, but yesterday a ceremony to mark the occasion was held at the Harold Washington Library. Local media highlight different aspects of this momentous occasion:  Chicago Sun TimesChicago TribuneChicago ReaderCurbed Chicago and WBEZ.

We thought we would add to occasion by reposting a video from the visit in October 2013 of our dear friend, Professor Troy Duster, son of Chicago and grandson of Ida B. Wells-Barnett.  In a talk that he titled, “The Arc that Bends Toward Justice Requires an Accelerator: Engaged Learning as the Bridge to Civic Engagement,” Professor Duster spoke about today’s context and the intersections of the fight for justice, civic engagement and engaged learning.  Members of Troy’s family joined us for the event.

Troy Duster, GCI director Teresa Córdova and members of the Duster family.

Professor Duster, Chancellor’s Professor and Senior Fellow at the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, University of California, Berkeley and Emeritus Silver Professor of Sociology, New York University, has an impressive biography of his own and is a leading scholar in the topic of eugenics. Please see our introduction to Professor Duster along with the link to the video of his presentation.

The Arc that Bends Towards Justice Requires an Accelerator:  Engaged Learning as the Bridge to Civic Engagement”

Professor Troy Duster
University of Illinois at Chicago
October 10, 2013

Introduction, Teresa L. Córdova

On behalf of The Great Cities Institute, The Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, the Social Justice Initiative, and the Department of Sociology, we welcome you.  Each of the directors and many of their staff are here:  Joe Hoerth, Beth Richie, Barbara Ransby, and Barbara Risman.

Also with us today are members of the Duster family, including children of Donald Duster, Troy’s brother.  Welcome, we are so happy that you are here.

You know, as director of the Great Cities Institute, I find myself saying great a lot.  “What a great day,” or “Wow, that’s so great.” Of course, I ponder the question of what is a great city.  We might also ponder what constitutes a great woman, or a great man, or a great collective effort. It is a worthy endeavor:  to think about greatness, to aspire to greatness.  We might also ask ourselves to what greatness must we arise in these times of extreme inequality and lock jawed politics?

Ida B. Wells was a great woman.  We know that she was a fearless leader and a passionate crusader for justice.  The world is a better place because Ida B. Wells fought so tirelessly against lynching, presumptions of guilt, and rampant segregation. We honor today, her grandson, who carries forward her greatness with his own commitments to a better world.  Like his grandmother, Professor Duster uses the pen, the written word to expose injustice and to inspire alternative ways of understanding the world.

In 1970, Troy’s mother’s edited book on her mother was published. In the same year, Professor Duster, published his first book. The Legislation of Morality: Drugs, Crime, and Law. This book made its mark in the Sociology of Deviance and shaped, for generations to come, an understanding of how drugs, crime and the law are epistemologically constructed to further justify stratification based on race. Timely, still, for us today.

Stratification, an enduring feature of humans (as Troy points out), is an area that continued to interest him throughout the years, leading to many additional publications including his 1990 and the revised 2003 Backdoor to Eugenics, as well as other award winning publications. In comparing his work over time, we see his methodical investigation of the history of how knowledge gets constructed including the politics of what and how ideas shape law and public policy. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his taking on the very complex topic of genetic research and challenging the underlying premises and implications of the track these premises travel as they relate to crime, the law and other social issues.

And like his grandmother and his mother, Alfreda, while they have used the pen very powerfully, they have all been actively engaged in pressing issues.  Professor Duster brings his astute understanding and analysis to every policy board, committee meeting, to every request for advice, to every arena.  There are many people out there that rely heavily on his counsel.  He is a man behind mayors of cities, federal judges, economic development planners, geneticists, and fellow researchers. Troy has been a devoted mentor to hundreds.  He is beloved and respected by his friends and by his students.  While at Berkeley, Troy established the Institute for the Study of Social Change. Through that Institute, he helped countless graduate students obtain their Ph.Ds.  I am one of those students.

Among the many things I have learned from Troy over 36 years of friendship are the power of context, and the significance of the larger picture. If you listen closely, Professor Duster provides the conceptual tools to understand the fine subtleties of power dynamics, how they play out, and what their implications are. Most importantly, his ideas provide paths for action.

Alfreda Duster, in the introduction to Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida. B.Wells, says about her mother, “If Ida B. Wells spent much of her time fighting the evil aspects of human relations, she worked equally hard in the effort to devise means to improve the lot of her fellows.”

Troy, the son and grandson of these wonderful women, endlessly fights “the evil aspects of human relations,” while working “equally hard to devise means to improve the lot of his fellows.”

He is a great man amongst us.  More importantly, he inspires us to our own greatness and the greatness that we can achieve collectively.

Please, join us, in welcoming a son of Chicago back home – Professor Troy Duster.

Please follow this link to view Professor Troy Duster’s Presentation at the University of Illinois at Chicago on October 10, 2013 and this link to view additional photos from the occasion.