In an interview concerning the preservation of historical items by Julie Mickens ICON newsletter in1998; it was confirmed that;“the biggest task now is compiling and presenting information, artifacts and archival evidence". Among the current interested parties is Connie Hillsman who concentrates on the history of the Black community in the Cedar Rapids area. Hillsman has lived here her entire life. She has been interviewing many elderly African Americans in Cedar Rapids and has a large personal collection. For her, these interviews and the collection of newspaper articles and pictures are an attempt to capture the memories of an era that is literally passing on.

To someone unfamiliar with the history of African Americans in this city Hillsman seems to overflow with facts and antedotes. However, as she talked, she noted regretfully that many of the community’s oldest members – those of her parents’ generation- are dying. Another problem facing preservationists is that much of the historical record –including receipts from black-owned businesses, old photos, marriage licenses and other personal papers-were destroyed because people didn’t realize its value.
Nevertheless, Hillsman seems confident that enough people survive who are old enough to recall life in the Black community during the 1940’s, 1950’s and even earlier. At that time, there were two strong and geographically coherent African American neighborhoods.

According to Hillsman, the more famous was and still is known as Oak Hill. Generally speaking, Oak Hill stretched from Eighth Avenue SE southeast toward the present day Metro High School and south toward the river. The other neighborhood lay just on the other side of the river, occupying the area along Eighth Avenue SW along H street that no longer exists to where the new police station is to more or less where Diagonal Drive is today.

Many of the African Americans who came to Cedar Rapids during Oak Hill’s Heyday came from an area of Tennessee around Milan and two coal- mining towns in Iowa, Buxton and Shenandoah. People moved from Buxton to Cedar Rapids when the mines folded in the 1920’s.

Buxton, which was a predominantly African American town has been the subject of academic studies. Hillsman tells of one of her interviewees, Margie Boone, who moved to Cedar Rapids from Buxton and was disappointed at the racism she faced here. In Buxton, she was “somebody” but when she came to Cedar Rapids, there was discrimination to deal with.

Over the years, a number of building projects have crowded the Oak Hill neighborhood where the Black community established itself in Cedar Rapids. The construction of Mercy Hospital, Diagonal Drive, the US Postal building on Seventh Avenue and various urban renewal projects of the 1960s caused family housing to disappear and the human character of the neighborhood to change as people moved.

Whether African Americans were displaced by construction or simply chose to live elsewhere, little of the old neighborhood remains as it was. Relatively few family houses still stand, and most of the groceries, barber shops, restaurants, stores and other businesses are gone ( The residences at 1012-8th Street SE occupied by A. G. Ampey  and 912 8th St. S. E. the home of the Blakey family are still standing.) Mr. Ampey was born in 1892, at Muchakinock,(near Buxton) Iowa  and the Blakeys were from Buxton also.

Move forward 13 years…since the interview and while conversing with Bev Taylor, born and raised in Cedar Rapids and a lifetime member of Bethel AME, who inherited the church history from his mother.  He stated that “time is moving on” and we have history in our hands that needs to be preserved.  The history of the churches, the black community and it's contributions to the history of Cedar Rapids will hopefully survive the hands of time; as we attempt to celebrate and preserve our culture and history online at African American Footprints in Cedar Rapids.

This project was initiated by Connie Hillsman and Bev Taylor. Imelda Collins has emerged as a primary contributor in compliling and editing much of the content of our online site.

         Connie                                                                                    Bev


Those of you who have photos or data of historical significance involving present or past Cedar Rapids residents are welcome to contact us.  The photos should be in in a "jpg" format