Edna Griffin, known as the “Rosa Parks of Iowa,” didn’t back down when she was refused service at the former Katz Drug Store in downtown Des Moines. Because of her actions, the building that once housed the drugstore was named in her honor. Above is an illustration by acclaimed Cedar Falls artist Gary Kelley, who created a calendar with his daughter, Cydney Kelley, depicting milestones in women’s fight for equality.
The Edna M. Griffin Building was the location for the spark that ignited one of the biggest landmark civil rights cases in Iowa history. And now, after a renovation to the 135-year-old building, it will be honored with a fitting virtual celebration at 4 p.m. this Saturday, June 13.
The celebration, sponsored by the Iowa Architectural Foundation, includes a virtual tour of the building that in 1948 was the site of a civil rights sit-in protest. Employees of Katz Drug Store, which had been housed in the building at 319 Seventh St., refused to serve Edna Griffin, a black woman, and two others. Griffin led a protest on July 9, 1948; as result, in 1949, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling that made it illegal in Iowa to deny service to people based on their race.
The 135-year-old building was originally called the Flynn Building. It was renamed the Edna M. Griffin Building in 1998. In 2016, a group of investors bought the building and recently completed a renovation that includes offices, apartments and a ground-level retail space occupied by a walk-up Kum & Go convenience store.
To celebrate the building’s rehabilitation, architect Andy Lorentzen of RDG Planning and Design will lead the virtual tour, which will include a gallery of historic images and video of Griffin’s accomplishments and legacy.