Edna M. Griffin


"Every community has its Rosa Parks... and Edna Griffin has been the Rosa Parks of the Des Moines community for a long time. This is a civil rights warrior who knew her battleground."
--Adin Davis, The Des Moines Register, August 21, 1983

Edna M. Griffin has been the Rosa Parks of Des Moines for decades; however, her request for service at a segregated cafeteria there in 1948 came seven years before Parks' celebrated refusal to move to the back of a southern bus. Ultimately, Griffin's legal suits and sit-ins were successful in making such businesses obey Iowa's public accommodations law. The Fisk University graduate has devoted her life to the civil rights movement. In 1963, she organized Iowans to join Martin Luther King's famous march on Washington, D.C. She also began a Des Moines chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which supported the voter registration drive in the South. For many years, her column appeared regularly in Iowa's statewide minority publication, the Iowa Bystander. She has also been active in peace and other human rights efforts. Born in Kentucky in 1909, she grew up on a New Hampshire farm and moved to Des Moines in 1947. Griffin was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1985.

UPDATE: Griffin received the Community Service Award from Blacks in Government in 1993 and the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice in 1998. In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of her successful desegregation efforts, Griffin was honored by Urban Dreams for her leadership and bravery. A dedication of a commemorative plaque was also held at the site that once housed Katz Drug Store, followed by an evening reception/reunion/reenactment at the State Historical Building. In 1998 the Flynn Building, which housed Katz, was renamed the Edna Griffin Building. Griffin died on February 8, 2000.