Feb 22, 2023 - News

Des Moines' Green Book sites are gone

A photo of the YWCA in Des Moines.

The YWCA as it appeared in the early 1900s. Today the site is a parking garage. Photos courtesy of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and the Polk County Assessor

In celebration of Black History Month, we wanted to find out what happened to Des Moines sites listed in the "Green Book."

  • Spoiler alert: They're gone.

State of play: From the 1930s through the mid-1960s, these guides served as encyclopedias of businesses that welcomed Black travelers.

  • Green Books made it safer to be on the road, including in northern states where it was harder to decipher which places were off-limits to Black visitors.

Zoom in: There were six DSM sites listed in the book's 1966-1967 edition.

  • Four were restaurants located mostly in the Center Street district, one was a hotel and the other a downtown YWCA.

What they're saying: Some of the metro's most prominent Black neighborhoods were destroyed by discriminatory development, Amahia Mallea, an associate history professor at Drake University, tells Axios.

  • Freeway construction that was part of a federal interstate project in the 1960s, for example, took many of Center Street's homes and businesses. And federal housing and loan programs used in DSM were for decades discriminatory, a practice widely known as redlining.
  • Prioritizing and understanding equity in future developments can help avoid the problems associated with gentrification, Mallea said.

๐Ÿ’ˆ Of note: Historical landmark efforts are underway to save some of the remaining sites of previous generations that were important to local Black culture and history, including a former barber shop.


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