Ida B. Wells’ great-grandson keynotes MLK breakfast
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News January 19, 2013 8:50PM
28th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast at Elgin Community College Saturday morning. January 19, 2013. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 21, 2013 6:43AM
ELGIN — It takes just one person speaking up about injustice to make a change, said Dan Duster, the keynote speaker Saturday at the 28th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast.
Duster, a motivational speaker and Chicago resident, is most noted for his father’s family name. The Dusters were well-known in Chicago as doctors, architects and professors — a legacy his 14 other cousins lived up to by all attending college and earning degrees.
But the family member he speaks about most is his great-grandmother, “the great-grandmother of the civil rights movement, Ida B. Wells,” Duster said.
Nearly 70 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, in 1884 Wells also refused to give up her seat on a train. She was forcibly removed from that train, and later sued the railroad — and won.
As a reporter, Wells wrote about lynchings in America — her reaction to the lynching of three businessmen she knew in Memphis. When Wells began writing investigative journalism pieces on lynching in 1892, there were at least 200 each year. By the time Wells died in 1931, those were down to just a handful, Duster said.
Threatened with arrest for handing out buttons with anti-government themes — something no one else was doing — his great-grandmother said “I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I said,” Duster noted.
In 2005, Duster was on hand with the last known lynching survivor in Washington, D.C., when the U.S. Senate apologized for not passing anti-lynching legislation earlier in the 20th century. Several times, Duster explained, the House of Representatives had passed anti-lynching legislation, but the Senate never passed corresponding bills.
That lynching survivor, James Cameron, was saved when just one person in the mob yelled for the mob to stop.
Wells’ dream, Duster said, was to ensure the humiliation she felt when she was thrown out of that train car never happened to anyone else.
“Dream like a child, plan like an architect, and move like a firefighter,” is his advice now, Duster said.
He was brought to Elgin as keynote speaker after Janice Hare, one of the Human Relations Commission members who puts together the annual King weekend events, heard him speak at another conference, Duster said.
Other events planned for the weekend include a public program beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday at Elgin’s Second Baptist Church, 1280 Summit Street.
On Monday morning, students from all over Elgin will help sort 8 tons of food donated through local stores and schools at the Church of the Brethren headquarters on Dundee Avenue. The donated food will be sent to seven different food pantries in Elgin, noted Danise Habun, one of the committee members.