Civil Rights Victory

(Iowa Civil Rights Commission; 09/30/98; 0800)



Drake University Law School, along with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Edna Griffin Building will host a celebration of the 50th anniversary of a landmark civil rights victory, which occurred at Katz Drug Store in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

Lt. Governor Joy Corning will preside at the celebration, which begins at Noon, Monday, October 5, 1998, at Drake Law School, Cartwright Hall, Room 213, 27th and Carpenter, Des Moines, Iowa.

John Bibbs will speak at the celebration; he will offer his memories of the event and personal perspectives. He was one of three Des Moines residents who demanded to be served at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter on July 7, 1948. At the time, many of Des Moines’ lunch counters and other places of public accommodation refused to serve African Americans. Katz’ refusal to serve African Americans led to a series of public protests, civil lawsuits, and a landmark Iowa Supreme Court decision – all of which helped to end tolerance of open discrimination in Iowa.

The Langston Hughes Players of Des Moines will reenact the event, and Drake law students will present portions of the oral arguments made by the State and Katz’ attorneys to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Lt. Governor Corning will recognize the people who participated in the public demonstrations, the picketing and sit-ins.

This is the second event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Katz case. On July 7, 1998, a reception at the Iowa Historical Building was held to honor the protesters and a commemorative plaque was placed on the building that is the former site of the Katz store.

For more information, contact Professor Russell Lovell II at Drake University Law School, 271-3851, or Don Grove at the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, 281-8084.

On July 7, 1948, at 3:45 p.m., Edna Griffin, her infant daughter Phyllis, John Bibbs, and Leonard Hudson entered the Katz Drug Store in Des Moines, Iowa, and ordered ice cream at the lunch counter. The manager refused to serve them, saying, "It is the policy of our store that we don’t serve colored."

Outraged members of the community responded with sit-ins and picketing directed at Katz and other local lunch counters that refused to serve people because of race.

The Polk County Attorney’s Office prosecuted the Katz manager under Iowa’s only civil rights law, a criminal statute prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. The manager was found guilty by a jury and fined $50. The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the conviction on December 13, 1949.

On December 2, 1949, civil rights attorneys Charles P. Howard and Henry T. McKnight, who was head of the local NAACP Legal Redress Committee, negotiated an agreement, which successfully ended Katz’s discriminatory practices.

These events foreshadowed the modern civil rights movement. Through non-violent protest and legal action in the courts, the movement ended tolerance of open discrimination in our country and resulted in policies and laws prohibiting racial discrimination. It may truly be said that those who opposed the discriminatory denial of service at Katz led the way.



(Contact: Don Grove 515-281-8084)