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Michelle Duster    

Public Historian, Equity Advocate & Award-Winning Author Known for "Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells"

Michelle Duster is an author, public historian, professor, and champion of racial and gender equity who believes it is essential that the contributions women and African Americans made to the United States be told in a more complete and accurate way. The first 20 years of her career were in advertising, marketing, and program coordination. In the last dozen years Duster has written articles for several publications and wrote, edited or contributed to sixteen books. She has been active with various local and national public history projects, committees, and organizations that create, document and promote the many untold stories.

She has written articles for Ms. Magazine, TIME, Essence, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, People, Glamour, Daily Beast, and the North Star. Her most recent book, "Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth" (Henry Holt and Co.) was released on January 4, 2022 following "Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells," released in January 2021 by Atria/One Signal Publishers. She co-edited three books: "Shifts: An Anthology of Women's Growth Through Change" (MuseWrite Press, 2014) which was a finalist for two indie awards; "Michelle Obama’s Impact on African American Women and Girls" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); and most recently "Impact: Personal Portraits of Activism "(MuseWrite Press, 2020) which was also a winner and finalist for two different indie awards.

She co-wrote the children's history book, "Tate and His Historic Dream" (Highlights of Chicago Press, 2014) which was a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Book Award. Duster also edited two books that include the writing of her paternal great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells - "Ida In Her Own Words" (BW Publishing, 2008) and "Ida From Abroad" (BW Publishing, 2010).

Duster has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, WTTW, CBS & CW as well as numerous radio shows. She works tirelessly to preserve the legacy of her great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells – journalist, suffragist, and civil rights activist. She worked on the 1989 PBS broadcast film, Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice. Duster leads the family-run Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation, which awards scholarships to students at Rust College and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and provides resources and information to the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She worked with the local and state government of Mississippi to have signs put on Highway 78 to indicate the museum location. She is a member of the Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee where she served as co-chair for several years. The committee commissioned world-renowned sculptor, Richard Hunt, to create the Ida B. Wells National Monument that is located in the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago. The interpretive, soaring piece was installed in June 2021 and captures the life and work of her great-grandmother. Duster also worked with the City of Chicago to have an historical marker placed and an honorary street named after Ida B. Wells at 37th and King Drive in 2019. In addition, she was involved in renaming the major downtown thoroughfare Congress Parkway to Ida B. Wells Drive in 2018. She also spearheaded the creation of a large-scale suffrage mural for downtown Chicago which features ten women, including Wells. The project was installed in Fall 2021. She is currently working to have a text-based companion mural installed.

In her efforts to preserve the history of other African Americans and women, Duster served as a member of the board of directors of the Chicago Women’s History Center for a decade and was secretary for several years. She has also been a member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History since 2009. She served on the Academic Program Committee from 2011-2018 and chaired the Film Festival Committee from 2013-2018, organizing a documentary festival that included 15-17 current films that focused on the African American experience. She currently serves on the advisory board of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame and the board of the Women’s Suffrage National Monument Foundation which is working to create the first monument in Washington, DC to feature women.

She speaks around the country at universities, churches, museums and other organizations about the importance of women telling their stories, the importance of representation in public history pieces, and the contributions that African Americans, including her great-grandmother, made to the United States. She also conducts 2 - 4 hour workshops to help people hone their ideas to capture undertold stories and guides them in developing strategies to bring their concept into fruition.

She has received numerous awards for her activism including the 2022 Ripple Effect Award from Public Narrative; 2020 Ida B. Wells-Barnett Award from Illinois NOW; 2019 Multi-Generational Activist Award from the Illinois Human Rights Commission; and the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Award from Dartmouth College.

Duster was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from Dartmouth College and her M.A. in Media Studies from The New School in New York City. She also completed MFA coursework in film and video production at Columbia College Chicago where she now teaches business writing. In addition, she tutors writing at Wilbur Wright College, where she also served on the Racial Justice Committee.

Speech Topics

Make an Impact: Lessons from Ida B. Wells and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The combined lifespans of these two leaders is over one hundred years of struggle for freedom, justice, and racial equality. Their lives overlapped by two years, so one can think that Wells passed the activist baton to King. Although they were two generations apart, they have a lot in common. Michelle Duster highlights the similarities between these two activists and offers suggestions on how today’s leaders can make an impact by adopting some of the strategies used by Wells and King.

Ida B. Wells & Today's Street Journalism

Information included in the mainstream media has historically been told through an overwhelmingly white male lens. As a result, the perspectives and realities of African Americans tend to be overlooked, skewed, or erased. In order to combat this, some have taken initiative to report their own realities. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ida B. Wells took control, countered false narratives, and chronicled the realities of lynchings and riots during her time. A century later, the African American community is still impacted by racial inequality and state-sanctioned violence. Writer, speaker, educator, Michelle Duster, will discuss how her paternal great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells pioneered data journalism and how that tradition contributes to truth and justice.

From 1919 Black Awakening to 2021 Black Lives Matter Movement

In this conversation, centered on her book Ida B the Queen and essay featured in Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America Michelle Duster, author, speaker, and educator will touch on the events leading up to, during, and following the race riots of the Red Summer of 1919. She will explain how the lack of implementation of solutions presented after that summer’s riots are tied to the current social and civil unrest.

African American Suffragists and the Struggle for Inclusion

Even though the suffrage movement was focused on women gaining the right to vote, the battle was mostly fought separately along racial lines. White women shunned and marginalized African American women, which propelled them to form their own groups. Author, speaker, and educator, Michelle Duster explains the racial divisions that her great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, and other suffragists experienced and how the struggle for African American women to be included extends to today’s struggle for inclusion in the documentation and commemorations of the movement as well as current voting rights.

Ida B. Wells and Family Legacy of Determination, Education & Agitation

Author, speaker and educator, Michelle Duster will discuss the work and legacy of her paternal great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, and the multi-generational family efforts to make sure her ancestor's contributions to the country are recognized and honored. The author of Ida B the Queen has worked on a PBS documentary film, edited two books that include her ancestor's writing, a Chicago monument, an honorary street name, a public marker, and a major downtown Chicago street. She consults on other national projects that feature her ancestor. In addition, she manages the Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation which provides college scholarships and supports public history projects that include Ida B. Wells.

Ida B. Wells lived through violent and lawless times which is explained and discussed. The composition of the audience determines the level of detail and selection of images that will be included.

Preserve and Celebrate Your Own History of Family, Community or Institutions

Author, speaker and educator, Michelle Duster will discuss how it is possible to take control of your own story and document personal, family, community or institutional history. She will discuss what was involved in researching her book Ida B the Queen, but also more personal booklets that she created for family reunions and extensive obituaries that documented and captured detailed information about family members. She explains how various mediums and techniques can be used to document, preserve, and promote history.

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Creating Racial and Gender Equity in Statuary Form

The history of the United States that is represented through monuments, murals, markers, cultural sites, and naming of public spaces is dominated by white men. The lack of equitable mention or inclusion of women and minorities creates a false narrative for our country. Author, speaker, and educator, Michelle Duster will discuss the work she has done to shine light of her great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, and other women leaders and trailblazers. She will explain the process involved with the creation of a monument, historical marker, major street renaming, honorary street name, and substantial mural.

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