Reviving Old Projects, Creating a New Community

The project I am working on seeks to revive the Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network, an initiative that was first created in 2014 to create a central repository for Civil Rights collections in Iowa that incorporates smaller holdings into the University’s own collections. In its initial inception, only a handful of university archives were featured on the HICRN website. By the end of this summer, our hope is that the Network will feature a comprehensive list of Iowa collections pertaining to Civil Rights which includes several private museums and local community archives. 

In addition to contacting other archives, we have been working to develop original content for the HICRN website. One of the most exciting projects is an interactive map that will display Iowa businesses that were featured in editions of the Negro Motorist Green Book. The Green Book was published by Victor Hugo Green from 1937-1966 and was one of the most famous African American tourist guides of the 20th century. Editions of the Green Book have been digitized and are available to the public through the New York City Public Library website. 


The goal of the interactive map is to make the information from the Green Book more accessible and to serve as a learning tool for people trying to teach about the black experience in Iowa. By observing the kinds of places where black-owned businesses began and ended, we get a sense of the lives of African Americans in Iowa from 1937-1966. My duty is to gather information from the Green Book and compile it into a spreadsheet. Jay Bowen, from the Library’s Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio, will then take that information and input it into the interactive map.  

It has been interesting to view this material from the perspective of the University Archives as opposed to a researcher. Historians and other scholars like to take advantage of archive initiatives, but I have rarely thought about the time, energy, and funding that goes into these projects.  

One conclusion that I drew from the Green Book entries was the extent to which these businesses relied on the local African American community. When new entries surfaced in the Green Book, they tended to arrive in bunches, with several new black-owned businesses starting in the same city (or even on the same street) during the same year. Similarly, if one local Green Book business closed, it was not uncommon to see several other Green Book businesses also close down.  

Dubuque’s Canfield Hotel first appeared in the 1957 edition of the Green Book

This information can be gleamed from the Greenbook itself, but becomes more apparent when using the interactive map. The map makes it much easier to see geographic patterns and would be a great learning tool for teaching change over time. The HICRN website is still in its infancy, but projects like the Green Book map illustrate the potential that this initiative has. There are a handful of other projects that I hope to complete during my time with the program, and I am hopeful that they can serve as effective compliments to the Green Book map and other HICRN initiatives.