Ida B. Wells’ great-grandson carries on her social justice work

Dan Duster ‘I’m led by the spirit of my ancestors’


By Chinta Strausberg


Known as “The Influence Man,” Dan Duster, who is the great grandson of the late journalist/civil rights leader Ida B. Wells, has been appointed to the prestigious Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) Board of Directors—an appointment he says is led by the spirit of his ancestors.

In an effort to carry on the legacy of Ida B. Wells, Duster, 43, a Chicago native who grew up in Chatham and now heads the 3D Development Group a company he founded more than a decade ago, said being elected to the ICA Board “is an honor, privilege and a responsibility.”

The legacy of his great-grandmother serves as a catalyst for his social justice work. In 1941, CHA built the South Side Ida B. Wells Homes named after the civil rights activist who besides being a writer documented the lynching of black men in the United States. He spends much of his time teaching others about her history that precedes the modern day Civil Rights movement.

Duster said in 1884, 71-years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, Wells defied a train attendant’s order to move to the “Colored Only” section on a train resulting in her suing the railroad company.

Wells, who was also very active in the Suffrage movement, was an educator who had a low tolerance for racism especially death by hanging, and she documented those hangings much to the chagrin of the white media.

Referring to his great-grandmother, Duster said, “I am privileged to know that she was well respected” no matter where he went.”  On the razing of the CHA’s Ida B. Wells Homes, Duster said, “It is an honor, privilege and responsibility to have had such a comprehensive structure named after her is an honor.”

Duster is the nephew of the late attorney Benjamin Duster, the husband of Dr. Muriel Higgins who is the daughter of 101-year-old Ora Higgins, the first black personnel director for Spiegel’s Company and a Chicago teacher. While not related, Duster said he considers Mrs. Ora Higgins as his grandmother.

“Her values and her presence are awesome. Being around her as a young person, she acted and carried herself” with dignity and was clearly the matriarch of the family, he said. “She definitely had an influence on me.”

Duster, whose own mother, Maxine Duster who held many positions including being a teacher, praised Higgins for maintaining her Ora Higgins Youth Foundation where she continues to send scores of African American students to college. “Her value of education has made a difference and absolutely has an impact on me. Her love, value and impact on her family” also had a huge influence on his life.

Duster remembers many stories he heard about the impact on the community by Ora Higgins and his grandmother, Alfreda

Duster also a social activist. He said people respected both women but admitted, “Today, it’s difficult to see that now days… I hold myself to that standard,” he said.

Asked how is he carrying her legacy today, Duster said he travels across the nation telling the story about Ida B. Wells’ struggles and her achievements. He tells about how the civil rights movement began long before the 1960’s and said it’s still going on today.

He also holds his parents, Maxine and Donald Duster, in high esteem. Mr. Duster is a retired state worker who also held several other positions. They have been a consistent and stable force in his life having been married for more than 50-years. Both parents are retired.

That leaves young Duster to help carry on the legacy of his great-grandmother. He gives workshops including one entitled

“Stand Up For Justice.” “There is a need for people to stand up for justice like James Kayland who was the only lynching survivor in 1930. He was literally all but killed in 1930 but because one person had the courage to stand up and say he was innocent his life was spared.

“While we don’t see lynching’s any longer, we just see injustices whether it is bullying or racism or disrespect of teachers…, if we were as individuals stand up and say this is wrong and it shouldn’t happen, we would have a lot more justice in our neighborhoods, our communities, our corporations, America and the world.”

He gave some advice on standing up to justice: “Be wise with the choices, excellent with your actions, live with integrity and lead with courage.”

On violence, Duster said there are a lack of fundamental values and a lack of community monitoring. When he was a child, Duster said literally the village looked after the children. “I joke around and said I wanted to be bad, but I couldn’t because I had so many neighbors watching me. I was Mr. and Mrs. Duster’s child and if I acted irresponsibly or disrespectfully not only would I have heard from my neighbor but several people.”

He said his parents; his grandmother and Ida B. Wells held people accountable for their actions. “That is one of the biggest things missing in our community values and accountabilities for their actions,” said Duster.

Duster said the character and history of both women remain a catalyst for his social justice actions and his passion for being a motivational facilitator and trainer for businesses, community groups and schools.

On being the great-grandson of Wells, Duster said, “It’s always been an honor and a responsibility to respect her legacy, to carry it on and move it forward, to enlighten people about the things that not only she has done but other African Americans and their contributions.”

Still a resident of Chatham, Duster said, “It’s all about community.”

As a member of the ICA board of directors, Duster said the prestigious organization serves as facilitators and trainers “who focus on improving the world.” He wants to bring more people into ICA as trainers and facilitators “and to expand their footprint in Chicago to do training within the organization and to expose people to the fantastic things that the organization does while impacting the community at the same time.”

Duster wants to expose neighborhood communities within Chicago to the programs offered by the ICA and in doing so he continues the social justice work of his very courageous and committed great-grandmother.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: