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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Edna Griffin papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1948-2004
Creator: Griffin, Edna (1909-2000)
Extent: 2.00 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0443
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Civil rights activist, later known as the Rosa Parks of Iowa.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers were donated by Linda and Stanley Griffin (donor no. 649) in 1998, and Noah Lawrence (donor no. 953) in 2005 and subsequent years.

Preferred Citation: Edna Griffin papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Civil rights activist Edna Griffin was born in 1909 in Kentucky and raised in New Hampshire. She graduated from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1933, and married Stanley Griffin, a medical doctor. The couple had three children, Phyllis, Linda, and Stanley. Griffin and her family moved to Des Moines in 1947, where she became involved in the Progressive Party, especially in its efforts to end discrimination against African Americans. On July 7, 1948, Edna Griffin became a leader in the long campaign to desegregate the lunch counter at the downtown Katz Drug Store. After Griffin, her daughter Phyllis, and two of her friends were refused service, Griffin organized pickets in front of the store. She later filed charges against the owner under the 1884 Iowa Civil Rights Act. The case drew a good deal of publicity, especially when the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdict against owner Maurice Katz in 1949. Because of her actions, Griffin was later dubbed "the Rosa Parks of Iowa."

Griffin continued to be an active participant in the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. She also served as co-chair of Shirley Chisholm's 1972 bid for the Democratic Party's nomination for president, and participated in protests against nuclear weapons at the SAC Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska. Griffin was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Iowa African Americans' Hall of Fame in 1999. In 1998, Iowans commemorated the 50th anniversary of Griffin's successful challenge to racial discrimination at Katz Drug Store and recognized her important contribution to the early Civil Rights movement in Iowa and the nation. Griffin received several awards, and the Flynn Building, which once housed Katz Drug Store, was renamed the Edna Griffin Building. Griffin died in 2000.

The Edna Griffin papers date from 1948 to 2004 and measure 2 linear inches. The papers contain very few personal items. The biographical information includes details about several awards Griffin received. Most of the articles in the newspaper clippings folder describe the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Griffin's successful effort to desegregate Katz Drug Store. The transcript and audiocassette of an interview with Phyllis Griffin, Edna Griffin's daughter, conducted by Noah Lawrence in 2004 is also included; Phyllis Griffin reflects on the values her mother imparted to her, the relationship between her parents, and her mother's early life experiences. Photocopies of the documents in Griffin's FBI file, declassified in 2006, offer many details about Griffin's work with the Progressive Party during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Verda Williams papers (IWA): Williams' documentary, "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard" features an interview with Edna Griffin and includes audiocassettes and transcripts of the interview.

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom records (IWA):  In the late 1960s Edna Griffin was the finance chair of WILPF.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: Edna Griffin

  • Series 1: Edna Griffin
  • Box 1:
  • Biographical information - 1998
  • Newspaper clippings - 1972-2000
  • State v. Katz - 1949
  • Phyllis Griffin interview transcript and audiocassette [AC1054] - 2004
  • Edna Griffin's FBI file - 1928-1953
  • Edna Griffin's FBI file (folder 2) - 1928-1952
  • Photographs, undated