Waterloo Cultural Center Seeks to Celebrate Black History | Iowa

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) – When Sonja Bock first came to town 13 years ago, she remembers driving by the boxcar on East Fourth and Adams streets and thinking, “What what is it? “

Now, as Bock passes the torch after four years as president of the African American Cultural Center in Waterloo – the official name for that boxcar – she hopes fewer people will ask this question each year.

“I think people have seen the improvements to the property,” she said.

Incoming president Darrell Wilder believes they will start to get excited about what’s to come as well.

“Now people are seeing movement, so now it raises a lot of questions,” Wilder told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

The African American Cultural Center of Waterloo at 1320 E. Fourth St. has seen setbacks over the years. Now it is attracting new events to space and is trying to become something its founders envisioned: a beacon of the city’s rich black history.

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This includes the first African American festival this weekend, hosted by Hopewell Church. Scheduled from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, the family event will feature shows, food vendors and inflatable houses. The Reverend Clarence Williams, pastor at Hopewell, expects the event to draw around 200 people to the center’s outdoor shelter and space.

Although neither he nor the event is affiliated with the center, Williams said he had it there to help increase his visibility.

“I would love to see this place grow,” said Williams. “We hope the community will step in here and say, ‘Well, maybe we can do something there. “”

This is good news for the centre’s board of directors.

“A lot of people don’t know what’s going on because they’re still living through stories from the past,” Wilder said.

For starters, the board removed “museum” from the title for several reasons, including the fact that there is a museum of the same name in Cedar Rapids and that there aren’t as many artifacts as, say , the Grout Museum District. the street.

But they also refocus on themselves as a space for community gathering, while also showcasing the story of the boxcar. Black residents brought in as railroad strikebreakers were forced to live in boxcars like this over 100 years ago, confined to a small area of ​​Waterloo known as the Afro-Triangle. American.

Neighborhoods surrounding the center have remained heavily black ever since, according to census data. But while the center – then known as the African American Historical and Cultural Museum – had the unique potential to shine a light on black history in Waterloo, it had instead been beset by internal strife.

In 2014, the board survived a high-profile leadership struggle and unpaid tax assessments. In 2015, the board of directors even considered moving the iconic boxcar to give it more visibility in the city, although it ultimately stayed where it was. Volunteer burnout was also a challenge among board members, as plans to expand the boxcar into a large $ 2.7 million museum stalled.

“In the past, there were promises that were made, then people didn’t follow through, and then people didn’t want to donate,” Bock said. “So this is the new narrative: we’ve done the job, we’ve been diligent, and now we’d like to welcome the community.”

A massive shelter was built behind the boxcar, which hosts a handful of events each year. The interior of the boxcar has been renovated and each artifact has been inventoried by professionals. The wooden entrance ramp, a door and a window were recently redone to comply with the city code. And red tape began to transform the center into a formal non-profit organization.

Local artist Les Wilder volunteered to paint a large mural in the centre’s parking lot, drawing even more attention to the renovated space.

In 2014, the board survived a high-profile leadership struggle and unpaid tax assessments. In 2015, the board of directors even considered moving the iconic boxcar to give it more visibility in the city, although it ultimately stayed where it was. Volunteer burnout was also a challenge among board members, as plans to expand the boxcar into a large, $ 2.7 million museum stalled.

The struggle for leadership continues at the African-American museum

“In the past, there were promises that were made, then people didn’t follow through, and then people didn’t want to donate,” Bock said. “So this is the new narrative: we got the job done, we were diligent, and now we would like to welcome the community.”

A massive shelter was built behind the boxcar, which hosts a handful of events each year. The interior of the boxcar has been renovated and each artifact has been inventoried by professionals. The wooden entrance ramp, a door and a window were recently redone to comply with the city code. And red tape began to transform the center into a formal non-profit organization.

Local artist Les Wilder volunteered to paint a large mural in the centre’s parking lot, drawing even more attention to the renovated space.

For more information on copyright, check with the distributor of this article, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.


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