Marking a civil-rights victory
D.M. honors those who fought, won
Edna Griffin sits amid friends and family at the site of Des Moines' former Katz Drug Store, where she was denied service 50 years ago because of her skin color.
By SHIRLEY SALEMY
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
Originally published 7/8/1998
Fifty years after being denied service at a downtown drugstore soda fountain because of the color of their skin, Des Moines civil-rights pioneers were honored Tuesday with proclamations, a plaque - and, fittingly, an ice-cream social.
On July 7, 1948, the general manager of Katz Drug Store refused to serve ice cream to Edna Griffin and her baby daughter, Phyllis, along with John Bibbs and Leonard Hudson.
The incident sparked picketing, civil lawsuits and a successful criminal case against Katz for violating Iowa's civil-rights law. The 1884 statute made it a crime to discriminate in public accommodations. The state Supreme Court affirmed Katz's conviction.
On Tuesday, at the site of the former drugstore on the corner of Locust and Seventh streets, local and state officials dedicated a plaque honoring the civil-rights victory and served ice cream to the lunchtime crowd of more than 100 people.
Later, a re-enactment of the incident took place at the Iowa Historical Building, as well as reflections on the significance of the event and a reunion of the surviving protesters.
"It is truly a celebration of courage on the part of some very special people -and progress, progress for our state," said Lt. Gov. Joy Corning, who leads the state's diversity committee.
The Katz Drug Store protest occurred seven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala., sparking a boycott and inspiring civil-rights activists throughout the country.
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission exhaustively researched the drugstore protest to establish a record of the event, educate Iowans and stimulate dialogue on race relations.
At the plaque dedication, Rudy Simms, regional director of the National Conference for Community and Justice, thanked Griffin, Bibbs and the late Hudson for their courage and persistence.
He also noted the sacrifice that Bibbs made to take part in the protests. Bibbs has said he had trouble finding work because of his civil-rights role.
"During that time I was very discouraged," Bibbs, 71, said after the ceremony. "I had few friends. I thought for sure I'd have to leave the city. I couldn't find employment. . . . Somehow, we managed to survive."
Griffin, 87, was surrounded by her family at the ceremony, including Phyllis Griffin, the daughter who was 16 months old and present at Katz with her mother that day 50 years ago.
The daughter described her mother's strategy.
"She was very, very angry," she said. "And the way she got even was through action that was clear, decisive -and people understood exactly what she was going after."