Iowa Freedom Riders continue push for change with Fourth of July protest

Protesters shared personal stories at the Pentacrest before marching to Linn Street to celebrate the unveiling of a new mural in downtown Iowa City.


Hannah Kinson

Protesters gather to commemorate a new mural that celebrates Black lives on Saturday, July 4, 2020 on Linn Street in Iowa City. After multiple speakers shared personal stories of inequality at the Pentacrest, protesters walked to Linn Street to celebrate an unveiling of a mural by Robert Moore and Dana Harrison.

Josie Fischels, Summer Editor

A Saturday night protest led by the Iowa Freedom Riders celebrated Black art by making a stop at the official unveiling of a new mural on 202 N Linn Street, “Reciprocal of Humanity.” The mural was painted by Iowa-based artists Robert Moore and his partner, Dana Harrison. 

“The IFR have been asking for Black art towards the movement, and are eager to show support to Moore’s work,” the Iowa Freedom Riders wrote in a social media post earlier that day. 

Moore addressed the crowd of around 100 at the unveiling of the mural as he stood on the roof of Wild Culture Kombucha Taproom & Lounge. A projection of the words “Black Lives Matter” lit up the mural, which is painted on the north side of Market House. 

“This mural, this painting, behind the imagery, below the imagery, those two women that are raised and painted on this wall — they represent what I see in Iowa City,” Moore said. “There’s a strong Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Black presence, and I wanted to convey that because I’ve seen that from University Heights all the way to City High, east, west, north, south of Iowa City, and I wanted to really put that as the highest mural in Iowa City right now.”

Attendees gather to listen to speakers talk about personal stories of inequality and educational reports on Saturday, July 4, 2020 at the Pentacrest. After walking to Linn Street, protesters celebrated an unveiling of a mural by Robert Moore and Dana Harrison that showcases support for Black lives. (Hannah Kinson)

The protest began at the Pentacrest around 8 p.m., where the Iowa Freedom Riders invited attendees to share personal stories about experiences they had with racism in Iowa. Wylliam Smith, a Black activist who works with the Iowa Freedom Riders, said the group aims to gather stories from protesters to share with the Iowa City City Council in order to prove to them that injustices are happening locally.

Editor’s Note: Wylliam Smith is a former columnist for The Daily Iowan.

“A lot of people on the City Council are saying, basically, ‘well, at least Iowa isn’t as racist as the rest of the world.’ So basically what we’re asking from you and from community members is to tell us what’s happening in our backyard,” he said. “We know there are injustices happening in Iowa City. We know there is injustice happening in Iowa as a whole, so we’re asking you to reach out to IFR and speak on these injustices. Let us bring these to the City Council.”

Related: Protesters march in solidarity across Iowa, Iowa Freedom Riders visit Kim Reynolds’ hotel in Washington, Iowa

The Iowa Freedom Riders have spent the last few weeks meeting with both the Iowa City City Council and the Iowa Community School District School Board to seek action on their demands. While IFR member Akia Nyrie Smith said the school board work session held on Wednesday was promising, the IFR has not yet seen a breakthrough with the city council. 

The group seeks to be fully present in the conversation to see through action on their demands, and announced that they will be meeting with the city council again individually in the coming week.

“Honestly, the school board is — I feel personally — is one of our greatest achievements because they are really sitting down and listening to us and talking to us,” Akia Nyrie Smith said.

The protest marched directly to Linn Street after over an hour of volunteers and leaders sharing stories with the crowd. At the mural, Moore addressed the racial injustices still being faced by Black Americans in the U.S. despite the Fourth of July holiday in celebration of freedom.

“My life matters, your life matters,” he chanted with the crowd. “But today, on Independence Day, when we ain’t independent, when we ain’t free, when we’re in cages, when we’re being killed, we ain’t celebrating sh––. All we’re saying is Black lives matter.”