Director of African American Museum of Iowa: why is Juneteenth important?

You probably heard all about Juneteenth, but do you know what it is? Do you know why it’s important? Many people don’t actually know the history. LaNisha Cassell, executive director of The African America Museum of Iowa explains the history, importance, and why owning slaves in the USA didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation.

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LaNisha Cassell, executive director of The African America Museum of Iowa, with a member of the community.
LaNisha Cassell of The African America Museum of Iowa celebrates at the 2022 Juneteenth Festival

Iowa has rich African American history, but when most people think of Civil Rights and African American heritage they think of national figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not Iowans. Cassell gives a few short examples of Iowa Civil Rights leaders. Leaders like Viola Gibson who, in 1942 protested the fact her nephew was unable to enter Ellis Park pool due to his race. Because of her actions, the rules were changed to allow African Americans entrance to the pool.

Juneteenth in Iowa

She also explained what takes place at The African American Museum of Iowa on Juneteenth. This year, one new aspect to the celebration included a partnership with the Des Moines Metro Opera. The Opera put on a performance of Driving While Black but more importantly put on a panel discussion following the program. During the panel discussion attendees discussed openly. Cassell mentioned the discussion centered around educating the public, but also how black parents can educate their children to be safe when interacting with law enforcement.

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 The African America Museum of Iowa has been in Cedar Rapids since 1993, making this August the museum’s 30th birthday! Cassell discusses how it was founded, flooding in 2008, and why flood controls actually sparked the AAMI’s new renovation which will be completed later this year. 

African American Museum of Iowa Capital Campaign

Currently The African America Museum of Iowa is undergoing a capital raise of six million dollars. The new museum will feature new attractions and a completely remodeled building for 2023 and beyond. The community is leading the effort, but they are currently taking donations for those interested in supporting The African American Museum of Iowa.