There’s a new mural in downtown Ames after the Ames History Museum held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new installation Monday. The vinyl mural on the north side of the building honors nine Black people and their connections to the history of the Ames community.
“The whole project started in September of 2020 as we were trying to be more inclusive and tell some of these stories,” said Alex Fejfar, exhibits manager for the Ames History Museum. “Some of the stories we’ve told before – like George Washington Carver is clearly someone we’ve honored in the past.
“But there are a lot of other names that made great contributions to the history of Ames who were African Americans.”
Along with Carver, the mural features Walter Madison, Archie Martin, Nancy Martin, Jack Trice, James Herman Banning, John Shipp, Nellie Shipp and Willa Ewing.
The mural was a collaboration between the Ames History Museum and the Graphic Design Social Club at Iowa State University. The organization is under the leadership of advisor Alex Braidwood, with students Helen Barton, Barsha Poudel, John Marquis, Darbi Shaw and Oni Wright involved in the project.
“They were really the ones that did a lot of this work,” Fejfar said. “Once we were able to narrow down the list of who we should honor and identify, the Graphic Design Social Club was really able to run with it and produced a really great graphic that I think will catch people’s attention at our Fifth and Douglas corner.”
Mural highlights new and familiar stories
Fejfar offered a brief description of the nine people honored on the mural and their contributions to the Ames community.
“George Washington Carver was pretty famous, obviously,” Fejfar said. He made major contributions to the world in the areas of botany, horticulture and agriculture. Locally, Carver was the first Black student at what is now Iowa State University as well as the first Black faculty member, when he was hired as a lab assistant. Carver Hall is his namesake.
“Willa Ewing was the first African American woman to graduate with a degree from Iowa State,” Fejfar said. “We honor George Washington Carver a lot and it spurred the question for us: Who was the first African American woman to graduate from the university?”
Ewing received a bachelor’s degree in botany in 1926 and a master’s in horticulture in 1935.
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John and Nellie Shipp were early residents of Ames. “They were housing Black female Iowa State students at their home on Sherman Avenue when they were not allowed to live on campus,” Fejfar said. “John was a longtime staff member at the Sheldon-Munn hotel, and the couple helped propel African Americans in education.”
Archie and Nancy Martin, who are probably better known due to the Martin House on Lincoln Way, are a similar story.
“The Martins were housing male students who were attending Iowa State from the late ‘20s through the 1950s when they were not allowed to live on campus,” Fejfar said. “Archie was quite active in trying to get them to be able to live on campus.
“Eventually it led to Martin Hall being named after them because of their efforts with off-campus student housing.”
Walter Madison owned a plumbing business in Ames and helped write the first Iowa plumbing code.
“He also had several patents to his name and became a professor,” Fejfar said.
In the 1920s, Madison was not allowed to eat at a local restaurant. He filed a lawsuit about it and won a small amount of money.
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“He won less than he should have, but it was seen as a very symbolic victory,” Fejfar said.
James Herman Banning was the first Black person to receive a federal pilot’s license, which he did in 1926. He learned to fly in the Ames area while he was a student at Iowa State. Eventually, he would name his plane Miss Ames.
“In 1932, Banning and another gentleman, Thomas Cox, became the first Black aviators to complete a coast-to-coast flight,” Fejfar said.
Jack Trice is also honored on the mural. “He was the first Black athlete at Iowa State, competed in football and track,” Fejfar said. “He died in 1923 from injuries that occurred during a football game in Minnesota. A lot of people are familiar with his story, of course.”
Iowa State’s football stadium is named for Jack Trice.
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“Jack Trice nearly left the community memory though,” Fejfar said. “If it weren’t for a plaque in State Gym commemorating his death that was kind of rediscovered in the 1950s by Tom Emmerson, an Iowa State journalism student at the time, the name Jack Trice might not be so well known today.”
When the new football stadium was built in the 1970s, a student-led campaign to name the facility after Trice fell short and just the field itself was named for him. In 1997, the entire stadium became Jack Trice Stadium, in another push that Fejfar also described as student-led.
Fejfar said several members of the museum board were instrumental in the creation of the mural, including museum director Casie Vance, Wayne Clinton, Mary Logsdon, Ryan Riley and Sharon Wirth.
In addition to portraits of the nine historic figures, an interactive feature allows viewers to download an app to learn more about the individuals.
“You can download an app and hold your phone camera pointing at the mural for an augmented reality experience,” Fejfar said. “The banner will turn into a moving graphic so that each person pops up to the forefront with some extra facts.”
Information about the app is available on the museum’s website, ameshistory.org.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Fejfar said. “It’s something the students thought of and suggested we use along with the banner.”
The museum recently expanded its hours and is now open on Thursday and Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
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