Edna Mae Griffin


Edna Mae Griffin
October 23, 1909 – February 8, 2000
First Unitarian Church, Des Moines, Iowa

  • Born in Lexington, Kentucky; raised in rural New Hampshire and Massachusetts
  • Graduated from Fisk University in 1933 with a degree in English; began her lifetime of work as an advocate for human rights there, protesting Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia and supporting a teacher’s strike; met future husband, Stanley Griffin
  • Moved to Des Moines, Iowa in 1947 when her husband was accepted at the Still College of Osteopathy and Surgery; he became one of the first Black physicians in Iowa
  • Dedicating herself to raising their three children due to her husband’s successful medical practice, Griffin was able to devote time to social and political causes; joined the Iowa Progressive Party in 1948
  • After being refused service at the Katz Drug Store cafeteria in 1948, Griffin led a movement of sit-ins, demonstrations, and lawsuits that reached the Iowa Supreme Court; ultimately her efforts led to the enforcement of existing laws prohibiting racial discrimination in Des Moines
  • Called the Rosa Parks of Des Moines, her fight for desegregation of public accommodations came seven years before Parks’ celebrated refusal to move to the back of a southern bus
  • Organized Iowans to join Martin Luther King’s famous march on Washington, DC in 1963
  • Founded the Des Moines chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); as its first president, organized a day of mourning for the four children killed in the Birmingham church bombing
  • Supported voter registration drives in the South, and was a regular contributor to the statewide African American publication, The Iowa Bystander
  • Inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Iowa African American Hall of Fame in 1998
  • Received a Community Service Award from Blacks in Government in 1993, and the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice in 1998
  • Was honored with the Trailblazer Award by Urban Dreams on the 50th anniversary of her successful desegregation efforts in 1998, when a plaque was dedicated by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission at the site that once housed Katz Drug Store
  • The Flynn Building, which housed Katz Drug Store, was renamed the Edna Griffin building in 1998
  • Was the first Black woman to serve on the UUA Board of Directors (1971 to 1978)