'STUDIES IN IOWA HISTORY'
The Negro In Iowa
Leola Nelson Bergmann
Among other outstanding Negro graduates from the University of Iowa Law School was Herbert R. Wright who was born in Iowa, practiced in Des Moines after receiving his degree in l901, and in l903 was appointed to the United States Consular Service, serving at Utilla, Honduras, from l903 to about l908, and at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, where he served until l9l8. William E. Taylor received his LL. B. in l923 and his LL. D. in l932. After practicing law in Iowa and Illinois, he became a professor, and later acting dean, in the School of Law at Howard University. In l939 he was appointed dean of the Law School in Lincoln University, Missouri.
In the field of civil engineering one of the most able and successful graduates of the State University of Iowa is a Negro, Archie A. Alexander of Des Moines. Alexander, the son of a coachman who had come up the Des Moines River from Missouri in l882, was born in Ottumwa, Iowa, in l888. After being educated in the public schools of Ottumwa and Des Moines, he entered Highland Park College, Des Moines, in l907. When the college changed its policy of admitting Negroes the next year, he enrolled at the State University of Iowa, receiving his B.S. degree from the college of engineering there in l9l2. During his undergraduate years he played football and won a major letter. In l925 he received the Bachelor of Engineering degree from the State University. In addition to several large bridges and viaducts which he built throughout the State his biggest contract during this period was the construction, in l928, of a new heating system for the State University's expanding campus. In l929 he entered into partnership with M.A. Repass, a (white) classmate, and the firm has built bridges, viaducts, and sewage plants in many parts of the country.
When the first Harmon Awards were granted in l926 to American Negro men and women for distinguished achievement in various fields, he received the second of two awards made in the field of industry and business, a bronze medal and one hundred dollars for his work as a civil engineer and contractor. Alexander was awarded the degree of doctor of Engineering from Howard University in l947. At the commencement exercises of the State University of Iowa in June, l947, he was among some hundred alumni who were honored for distinguished service in their fields. On November 11, l947, ten Midwest Gold Medal Service Awards were presented to five outstanding white and five Negro Republicans in recognition of their efforts to help the American Negro. The two Iowans who received this distinction were Gardner Cowles, Jr., of the Des Moines family that made possible the building of Willkie House, the colored community center, and A.A. Alexander, its president.
Iowa bears the honor of having educated and encouraged two Negroes who have given abundantly of their race -- one primarily as a scientist, the other as an educator -- George Washington Carver and Laurence C. Jones. Born in Missouri during the Civil War and orphaned in infancy, George Washington Carver spent a homeless childhood and youth. His wanderings brought him to Winterset, Iowa, late in his twenties. Befriended and encouraged to go to school, he entered Simpson College, Indianola, in the autumn of l890. The following spring he enrolled at Iowa State College, Ames. There Carver earned his B.S. degree in l894 and was given a position on the faculty as assistant botanist in the experiment station, a position which he held for two years. During this time he did graduate work and was granted a master's degree in l896. That fall he left Iowa State College to become the head of the newly organized agricultural department at that by now famed institution in Alabama, Tuskegee Institute. Among the many honors that came to this humble Negro scientist, whose discoveries, particularly concerning the properties and possibilities of the peanut and sweet potato, brought him international recognition, was an invitation to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Great Britain.
Some twenty years after Carver's birth, Laurence C. Jones was born in Missouri, his father being a porter at the Pacific Hotel in St. Joseph. After a year of high school in his home town, Jones came to Marshalltown, Iowa, where he completed high school in l903, being the first colored graduate in that high school. Friends persuaded him to continue his education, and by working for his board and room in a fraternity house he graduated from the State University in l907. Already vitally interested in what Booker T. Washington was doing for his people in the South, Jones went to a little school in Mississippi to teach. On a visit at the home of one of his students in the Piney Woods region of the State, he heard that the people in the district wanted a high school and had been working vainly for many years to raise enough money. To Jones it was a Macedonian call; he cast his lot with them.
Since Jones founded Piney Woods School in l909, many Iowans have contributed time, interest, and money to the support of the institution. These friends have made possible the erection in the early l940's of a building called Iowa Hall. Laurence C. Jones was also one of the hundred prominent alumni honored at the centennial commencement of the State University in l947.
To Be Continued .........................................................
Copied by Nancee(McMurtrey)Seifert
January 22, 2004