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.
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