In 2018, the State Historic Preservation Office launched a statewide survey to document the sites and share the stories of the 20th century struggle to achieve full civil rights for African Americans in Iowa. With public input and a grant from the National Park Service, the multi-year project identified people who were unrecognized for the roles they played in civil rights history, as well as properties with previously undocumented connections to the Civil Rights Movement, including homes, schools, businesses, restaurants, places of worship, government buildings, neighborhoods and more.

National Register of Historic Places

As of 2018, the National Register of Historic Places listed three Iowa properties that were associated with African American civil rights history during the 20th century:

  • Buxton Historic Townsite, Monroe County
  • Fort Des Moines, Des Moines
  • Flynn-Griffin Building, Des Moines

As a result of the survey, another property was added in 2021 to the National Register of Historic Places: the Harris House in Cedar Rapids, where a Black family integrated an all-white neighborhood in 1963.

The survey also revealed new information about many properties that are not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the Martin House in Ames, which housed Black students at Iowa State University before they were allowed to live on campus, and East High School in Waterloo, where students successfully protested in 1969 to add Black history to the curriculum and hire of more African American teachers and counselors.
If you’d like to suggest another site that is associated with African American civil rights history in Iowa, please submit your information using the Civil Rights Property Form.

Documentary Series

To share the new research from the State Historic Preservation Office, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs produced a video series called “It Is My Right: Stories of African American Civil Rights in Iowa,” with narration and additional research by Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP and executive director of I’ll Make Me a World in Iowa.
The series comprises seven short videos based on interconnected themes:

  • Activism
  • Athletics, Religion and Social Organizations
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Legal History
  • Politics and Government

The videos are available online for public viewing and community screenings. Additionally, some of the videos have been integrated into the State Historical Society of Iowa’s array of online resources for educators.

This project was funded in part by the African American Civil Rights Grant Program of the Historic Preservation Fund, which is administered by the National Park Service, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of the Interior.