A lot of you may not be familiar with the name Edna Griffin, but we should be, she was a civil rights pioneer in Des Moines, much like Rosa Parks in Alabama, and she has a downtown Des Moines building named after her. Edna became famous in 1948 with her court battle against the Katz Drug Store, which was located in the then known Flynn Building, later renamed the Edna Griffin Building in downtown Des Moines.
On July 7, 1948, Edna Griffin, her daughter Phyllis, and two friends, sat down at a lunch counter at the Katz Drug Store, ordered ice cream and were refused service because of the color of their skin. She then decided that she wouldn’t stand for this type of discrimination and made it her mission to put an end to discrimination in Des Moines. She launched a campaign to force the Katz Drug Store 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 store manager under Iowa’s only civil rights law, a criminal statute prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. The store manager was found guilty by a jury and fined $50. Soon after, restaurants in Des Moines finally began serving African Americans. What was unique about this, was that it was almost twelve years before similar sit-ins at the lunch counters began around the country.
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. Later, in 2004, a pedestrian bridge in downtown Des Moines was named after her.By Larry Bradshaw
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Posted under Living Downtown | Last modified on November 5th, 2008.