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Tribute Honors 60th Anniversary of Iowa Civil Rights Icon
Edna Griffin, known as the “Rosa Parks of Iowa,” will be honored Monday at the Fort Des Moines Museum in Des Moines.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Griffin’s legendary battle against Katz Drug Store, which had refused Griffin and other African-Americans service because of their skin color.
The museum, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the Des Moines Human Rights Commission and the Des Moines Chapter of the NAACP will host a tribute to Griffin, who died in 2000.
At 2 p.m., on July 7 at the Grimes State Office Building, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission will have a ceremony to name its offices after Griffin. At 7 p.m., the museum will hold a theatrical tribute featuring Ruth Ann Gaines, Maureen Korte of the Iowa Arts Council and musician John Cheatem. A symbolic march will follow the production.
In 1948, after Griffin and others picketed the downtown Des Moines store, Griffin sued Katz Drug Store under the 1884 Iowa Civil Rights Act, and won. The series of legal victories Griffin won paved the way for blacks to receive equal access in public accommodations — seven years before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott sparked a national Civil Rights Movement.
The museum, which honors the U.S. Army’s first officer candidate class for black men in 1917 and the first Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, has a little known connection to Griffin, said Joe Nolte, executive director.
Griffin was a member of the (WAAC’s) but it’s unclear whether she served in Des Moines, he said. Griffin’s military background was used by defense lawyers for Katz, Nolte said.
“We thought that was something worth celebrating,” he said, of her military background. “We want to make sure people understand the courage, the bravery and the skills she would have needed were definitely honed during her time in the military.”
The event, which is sponsored by Banker’s Trust, will end with a march by candle light.
“As a tribute to the folks who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make sure we had civil rights in Iowa,” Nolte said.