Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A belated tribute to a great woman - Edna Griffin

After being reminded recently of a person I had not thought of for many years - having left my home town of Des Moines Iowa almost 40 years ago - I submitted the following short article about her to Wikipedia.

Edna was active/proactive in many of the political issues that influenced my political/ideological development. And even, for a short period, seminar leader for the LRY-group I was active in at the Unitarian congregation in Des Moines.


Edna M. Griffin (1909-2000). For over fifty years a pioneer and champion of human rights, known to many as the “Rosa Parks of Iowa” Her court battle against the Katz Drug Store in Des Moines, Iowa in 1948 (State of Iowa v. Katz) was a watershed event in the civil rights movement.

Biographical note
Edna Griffin was born in 1909 in Kentucky, and raised in rural New Hampshire. She has said that she learned to read by reading The Crisis, the publication of the NAACP. According to Ms. Griffin, she never experienced discrimination in New Hampshire, although her family was the only African-American family in a four county area. Her family later moved to Massachusetts where she was first exposed to negative attitudes regarding race. She was educated at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she received a degree in English. She married Stanley Griffin, a doctor, and settled in Des Moines Iowa in 1947. She had three children, Phyllis, Linda, and Stanley.

Civil rights activism
Ms Griffin has been known to many as the “Rosa Parks of Iowa.” However, seven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person and touched off the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Edna Griffin in Des Moines had paved the way.
Griffin moved to Des Moines with her family in 1947 where she tired of the open discrimination she experienced. Griffin made it her mission to end discrimination in Des Moines. On July 7, 1948, Edna Griffin, her daughter Phyllis, and two friends, were refused service at Katz Drug Store in downtown Des Moines because of the color of their skin.

State of Iowa v. Katz 1948-49
Griffin launched a campaign to force Katz to serve African Americans by picketing every Saturday in front of the establishment, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. The Polk County Attorney's Office eventually prosecuted the Katz manager under Iowa's only civil rights law, a criminal statute prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. The manager was found guilty by a jury and fined $50. The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 1949.the case turned into the first successful enforcement of the 1884 Iowa Civil Rights Act.

One week before the Supreme Court ruling, civil rights attorneys Charles P. Howard and Henry T. McKnight, from the local NAACP Legal Redress Committee, negotiated an agreement which successfully ended Katz's discriminatory practices.

Lunch counters and restaurants in Des Moines finally began serving African Americans. This was almost twelve years before the sit-ins at the lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.

These events foreshadowed the modern civil rights movement. Through a combined strategy of direct action, non-violent protest, civil disobedience, and legal action, the movement brought an end to legal discrimination, and the resulted in policies and laws prohibiting racial discrimination. Edna Griffin, who opposed the discriminatory denial of service at Katz, led the way.

Continued activism
Griffin continued to be an active participant in the civil rights movement throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and a champion of human rights until her death in 2000. Griffin founded the Iowa chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality and organized Iowans for the March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. At 75, she went to Nebraska and sat "in the middle of the highway to stop nuclear warheads from being shipped into the SAC Army base," as she put it.

In recognition of her work
Ms. Griffin has been honored with the YWCAs Mary Louise Smith Award; the Community Service Award from Blacks in Government(1993); Urban Dreams' Trailblazer Award (1998); and the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice] (1998) [1].In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of her successful desegregation efforts, the Flynn Building, which once housed Katz Drug Store, was renamed the Edna Griffin Building. The same year, Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels declared May 15 as Edna Griffin Day.In 2004, a Pedestrian bridge in downtown Des Moines was named after her.

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