Friday Night Meetup explores oldest tavern in Cedar Rapids and stirring exhibits at the African American Museum of Iowa
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS — Friends and members of Save CR Heritage toured powerful exhibits at the African American Museum of Iowa and dined at the oldest tavern in Cedar Rapids during the group’s Friday Night Meetup on May 31.
Executive Director LaNisha Cassell told nearly a dozen attendees about the statewide museum’s origins in 1993 by members of the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids. The museum building, at 55 12th Ave. SE, was constructed in 2003 and reopened after being inundated with more than 5 feet of water from the nearby Cedar River during the flood of 2008.
A staff of seven works on its mission to preserve, exhibit and teach the African American heritage of Iowa through museum tours, traveling exhibits and other events.
One temporary exhibit, “Driven By Hope” offers insight into the economic, social and political issues of the American South that pushed African Americans to the North and the issues migrants faced when establishing themselves in Iowa. The exhibit is open through August 2, 2019.
The permanent exhibit, “Endless Possibilities,” traces Iowa’s African American history from its origins in western Africa to the present through slavery, the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. The exhibit includes replicas of a bunk on a slave ship and a Katz Drug Store diner counter where sit-in protests were staged after the owner repeatedly refused to serve African Americans.
Upcoming events include Juneteenth, an annual celebration of freedom on June 14 at the museum, and outdoors at Viola Gibson Park on June 15, with entertainment and activities for all ages.
Other events include “Wonders of Buxton” at 7 p.m. June 26, part of the museum’s Heritage Spotlight series, about the Iowa mining town referred to as a “utopia” by many of the African American residents, and a June 27 book club discussion.
During a July 11 program at 5 p.m., Dr. Simon Balto will discuss his research into the development of a police system in Chicago’s black neighborhoods that became simultaneously brutally repressive and neglectful, and on July 16 at 7 p.m., “More Than Just a Game” provides insight into Iowa’s African American athletes who fought for the right to equal treatment, both on and off the field.
Additionally, “Not Without Me!” offers an interfacing with the education process from 2-4 p.m. June 23 and July 28.
Friday Night Meetups, launched last year by Save CR Heritage, are open to anyone with an interest in our area’s history. The free events are held quarterly.
The May 31 meetup also included a visit to Little Bohemia, 1317 Third St. SE, considered the oldest operating tavern in Cedar Rapids.
Little Bohemia was built in what was called the Lesinger Block in 1883 by Vaclav Lesinger, an immigrant from Kozlov, Bohemia, to house his tailor shop and a dry goods store.
When it was converted to a saloon in 1907, it’s said that Lesinger continued his tailoring in a small area at the back of the saloon.
The Italianate structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was immortalized in a 1941 painting by artist Marvin Cone, a Coe College art professor and friend of famed artist Grant Wood.