The African American History Museum of Iowa marked its 20 year anniversary this weekend. Museum president and founding member, Tom Moore, has a favorite as among the exhibits in the Cedar Rapids building.
“My hero is Alexander Clark. He came to Iowa as a barber, but came an entrepreneur, and was very instrumental in integrating Iowa’s classrooms,” Moore explains. In 1867, nearly a hundred years before the Civil Rights Movement, Clark sued the Iowa State government to allow his daughter to attend the school near their home and won.
Moore says that’s why he felt it was important to establish the museum to teach Iowans about the roles African Americans played in their state’s history — something he didn’t think was being taught in schools. “Originally, we were hoping to instill a sense of pride in our African American children, we wanted to preserve it, we wanted to collect it. We wanted African Americans who had lived their lives and done much in their communities to feel appreciated,” Moore says.
That history includes some of the first sit-ins at a diner in Des Moines, and black soldiers who patrolled the midwest following the Civil War. The Director of Education for the museum, Michelle Poe, says her favorite moments have been children reacting to the exhibits.
“There was a woman who was taking a group of students from a local after school program, and they were going through and she goes, ‘you know this is your history, look at the strength of the people who came before you.’ And then she went on and ‘don’t tell me about not doing your homework, because look what they put up with so you could go to school and have all these opportunities’.”
Moore is retiring from his position as president this month. He says going forward, the museum will continue to work with other communities to develop their own exhibits on African American history.