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Ruth Wells

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Information about Ruth Wells

Profile image of Ruth Wells

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
Occupation(s):
Community Leader

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Bread (French), Vegetables, Seafood
Favorite Time of Year:
All Seasons
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Hawaii
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
8/1/1934
Birth Location:
West Point, Mississippi

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
Occupation(s):
Community Leader

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Bread (French), Vegetables, Seafood
Favorite Time of Year:
All Seasons
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Hawaii
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
8/1/1934
Birth Location:
West Point
See how Ruth Wells is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Community leader Ruth Wells was born on August 1, 1934, to Mettie Johnson and George Darnell, in West Point, Mississippi. Wells attended Cola Springs School, Cedar Grove School, and Lamont County Training School in Caledonia, Mississippi . At thirteen, she moved to Gary, Indiana, and attended Theodore Roosevelt High School. By 1950, Wells had dropped out of school to work for the Standard Oil Company in Whiting, Indiana. In 1952, she married James "Ira" Wells and in 1959 she began working for Chicago’s 3M Company. The Wells bought a home on land contract, where they fell victim to Chicago realtors known as “panic peddlers.”

In 1968, when her West Side home insurance rates rivaled those of Chicago’s North Shore residents, Wells confronted the realtors head on. Father James Egan (the late Monsignor Egan) introduced her to Father Jack Macnamara, a young Jesuit organizer whose resources honed Wells' leadership skills. She became the voice of hundreds of African American homebuyers who formed the Contract Buyers League (CBL). Civil rights attorney, Robert Ming, and pro bono attorneys from the law firm of Jenner & Block filed a lawsuit, and by 1972, most of the unethical “contracts” were converted to mortgages.

In 1972, Wells was recruited by Mary Powers to join Citizens’ Alert, a criminal justice watch organization. There, she organized citizens and confronted powerful figures like Chicago Police Superintendent James Rochford and City Personnel Director Cahill. In 1976, she was hired as an Information Officer by the Office of the Village Clerk of Oak Park, where she retired in 1990.

Ruth Wells passed away on June 14, 2009, in Chicago, Illinois.

Ruth Wells was interviewed by the HistoryMakers on January 15, 2004.

See how Ruth Wells is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ruth Wells' interview, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of Ruth Wells' interview, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ruth Wells lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ruth Wells talks about her mother and mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ruth Wells talks about her father and reflects on the system of sharecropping after emancipation
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ruth Wells talks about her siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ruth Wells recalls her earliest childhood memories
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ruth Wells mentions her move from West Point, Mississippi to Caledonia, Mississippi and speculates about her parents' education
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ruth Wells talks about growing up between her father's home and various older siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ruth Wells comments on changes she has seen in parenting styles over the years
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ruth Wells offers her thoughts on contemporary parenting
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ruth Wells recalls the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ruth Wells recalls when one of her older sisters was bitten by a snake
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ruth Wells remembers being healed from life-threatening pneumonia and other childhood stories
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ruth Wells reflects on her siblings
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ruth Wells remembers attending Lamont County Training School in Vernon, Alabama
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ruth Wells talks about her schooling and reflects on her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ruth Wells recalls her move to Gary, Indiana as a teenager
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ruth Wells recalls a story from when she attended Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ruth Wells reflects on the importance of not playing favorites with one's children
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ruth Wells briefly talks about her move from Gary, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ruth Wells describes her relationship with her niece when she lived with her in Gary, Indiana as a teenager
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ruth Wells talks about meeting and marrying her husband
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ruth Wells recalls being hired at Standard Oil in Whiting, Indiana despite not having a high school diploma
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ruth Wells recalls learning that white women at the Standard Oil factory were paid not to quit
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ruth Wells recalls discriminatory hiring practices at Standard Oil in Whiting, Indiana
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ruth Wells describes the kitchens at the YMCA in Gary, Indiana
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ruth Wells talks about moving to Chicago, Illinois and tells a story about how South Siders disliked West Siders
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ruth Wells describes teaching a South Sider a lesson about her prejudice against Chicago's West Side
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ruth Wells talks about white southerners' fear of being exposed for the extent of their racism during the Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ruth Wells talks about her and her husband's political leanings
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ruth Wells recalls buying a home on Chicago's West Side in 1959
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ruth Wells describes hiring a bad lawyer to help her fight against housing discrimination
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ruth Wells talks about meeting Jack Macnamara through Father Egan, a Jesuit priest on Chicago's West Side
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ruth Wells describes how she became involved with the Contract Buyers League with encouragement from Jack Macnamara
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ruth Wells talks about the formation of the Contract Buyers League, finding lawyers, and fundraising
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ruth Wells describes how realtors blockbusted on Chicago's West Side
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ruth Wells talks about lawyers who helped with the Contract Buyers League case
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ruth Wells talks about attorney Bob Ming and his imprisonment
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ruth Wells talks about lawyers for the Contract Buyers League and the basis of their case
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ruth Wells describes how realtors inflated housing prices for African Americans
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ruth Wells recalls attempting to make contact with Cardinal John Cody
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ruth Wells talks about speaking publically on behalf of the Contract Buyers League
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ruth Wells describes realizing that she could change her situation through the Contract Buyers League
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ruth Wells remembers causing a realtor to change his mind about renegotiating a contract
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ruth Wells describes some tactics for getting realtors to agree to renegotiate contracts
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ruth Wells describes the Contract Buyers League's role in helping homeowners renegotiate the terms of their contracts
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ruth Wells recalls confronting her landlord
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ruth Wells remembers an opposing lawyer whose argument was in favor of the Contract Buyers League
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ruth Wells talks about attempts to make contact with Cardinal John Cody and Mayor Richard J. Daley
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ruth Wells describes the end of contract renegotiations and getting Walter Cronkite to do a segment on the Contract Buyers League
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ruth Wells reflects on what might have moved people to agitate for change on Chicago's West Side after 1968
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ruth Wells talks about how door-to-door work and community trust helped build momentum for the Contract Buyers League
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ruth Wells talks about how she became involved with Citizens Alert
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ruth Wells talks about calling for psychological testing for new policemen
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ruth Wells talks about standing up to the Chicago Police
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ruth Wells recalls an interaction with Chicago Police Superintendent James Rochford
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ruth Wells talks about a Red Squad member who infiltrated the Contract Buyers League
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ruth Wells talks about lawyer Robert William "Bob" Ming
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ruth Wells talks about her involvement with Citizens Alert and receiving an award from the Guardian Police Association
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ruth Wells describes her concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ruth Wells reflects upon her life and the breakdown of the African American community
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ruth Wells reflects upon power, morality and unity
  • Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Ruth Wells reflects upon her legacy
  • Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Ruth Wells describes how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ruth Wells narrates her photographs