By Riley Manning
HOLLY SPRINGS – Civil rights activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett may have died in 1931, but her contributions to issues in the black community still inspire generations later.
Holly Springs Mayor Kelvin Buck on Friday helped open the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Birthday Celebration, a weekend-long festival celebrating the life of the activist, journalist and sociologist.
“I look across the room and see a member of every generation since [Wells-Barnett]. If even one of them had failed to carry and pass on her courage, we wouldn’t be here today, in a Mississippi that came from a dark path to a bright future,” Buck said.
The opening ceremony concluded with an art exhibit featuring work by Tupelo painter Billy Clifton, and performances by local youth groups and gospel singers.
“Let me tell you, I’ve done lots of exhibits, but this one is truly an honor,” Clifton said. “There were so many in the civil rights movement that gave their time and even their lives who will never be known. You don’t see many people standing up for something that way anymore.”
On Saturday, the festival will depart from Holly Springs at 8 a.m. to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Visitors also will tour Zion Cemetery, the oldest black graveyard in Memphis. That night, the festival will culminate in the Ida B. Wells Anniversary Banquet at Rust College. At the semiformal soiree, New York-based professor and performer Safiya Bandele will portray Wells-Barnett through narration and dance.
Alfreda Duster Ferrell, granddaughter of Wells-Barnett, now lives in Las Vegas, but said she looks forward to attending the festival each year.
“It’s going so well,” she said. “I’m enthused by what’s happening here, about new people coming in. It’s really fantastic to see Holly Springs embracing [Wells-Barnett’s] accomplishments, and to see the event grow.”
Vivian Gulledge, a Marshall County native, grew up alongside Wells-Barnett’s legacy, even volunteering at the Marshall County Historical Museum. She said it was heartening to see the amount of youth participation in this year’s celebration, especially from University of Mississippi and Rust College chapters of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
“[Wells-Barnett’s] life is particularly relevant to young folks,” Gulledge said. “It’s important for them to know her struggle, her contributions to civil rights and women’s rights, and to America in general.”
The festival will conclude Sunday with an 8:30 a.m. breakfast and fellowship at Asbury United Methodist Church.