Edna Griffin, 1909-2000
'It was not hard for me to stand up'
By DANA BOONE
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
Originally published on 2/9/2000
Edna Griffin, an Iowa civil-rights pioneer, died Tuesday morning at the Ramsey Home in Des Moines.
Griffin, 90, is best known for her fight in 1948 against Katz Drug Store in downtown Des Moines, which refused to serve blacks at its lunch counter. Griffin staged sit-ins, picketed in front of the store and filed charges against the store's owner, Maurice Katz. He was fined, and the Iowa Supreme Court made it illegal to deny service based on race.
Griffin's son, Stanley Griffin Jr., said his mother spent her life working tirelessly on behalf of others.
"She has been a champion for everyone," Griffin said. "She's a person who would help anyone in need. That's what I love about my mother."
On Saturday, Griffin was inducted into the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame. She's a member of the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame and received the Christine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice. She received the George Washington Carver Meritorious Award for Race Relations and an honorary doctorate from Simpson College.
In an interview with The Des Moines Register on Jan. 25, Griffin said she was pleased with the progress blacks have made. She said people have to keep working together for change.
"It was not hard for me to stand up," she said of her fight against racism. "I felt if things didn't change, the world would come to an end."
Griffin founded and led a chapter of the Iowa Congress of Racial Equality. She organized Iowans to attend the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 march on Washington, D.C., and helped start the former radio station KUCB. A plaque in her honor is at the site where Katz Drug Store once stood at Seventh and Locust streets. Last spring, Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels proclaimed May 15 as Edna Griffin Day.
Mary Jane Odell said her friend of more than 25 years deserves recognition. They met when Odell interviewed Griffin and her husband, Stanley, in 1976 for Iowa Public Television.
"She was such a joy," Odell said. "What a wonder she was. What a wonderful soul she had."
Odell said Griffin's triumph over Katz Drug Store is the equivalent of what Rosa Parks did to end discrimination in the South -and it came seven years earlier.
"She was a courageous and very intelligent woman," Odell said. "She was a brave and determined woman who was on the right side."
Gary Lawson organized the Iowa African-American Honors Banquet that honored Griffin Saturday. Griffin's daughter, Phyllis, accepted the award on her behalf. Lawson said Griffin's induction will become part of a permanent display at the Iowa African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center being built in Cedar Rapids.
"She has done things that created openings for all of us," Lawson said. "It's a great loss for everyone."
Griffin, who was born in Lexington, Ky., stepped into the role of activist during her early adulthood. She received a teaching degree from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., where she met her husband, who preceded her in death in 1980.
Survivors include a son, Stanley Griffin Jr. of San Jose, Calif., and two daughters, Linda Griffin of Los Angeles, Calif., and Phyllis Griffin of Chicago, Ill.
The cause of death has not yet been disclosed. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Hamilton's Funeral Home.