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Viola Gibson

2016 Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Honoree: Viola Gibson

“[Viola] Gibson changed the Cedar Rapids community by promoting human rights and fostering peace. One summer day in 1942 Viola’s nephew was denied entry to the Ellis Park pool due to his race. Gibson protested the fact that her nephew was unable to enter the pool. On June 17, 1942, Gibson started the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. After Gibson’s successful protest, the rules were changed to allow African Americans entrance to the pool.”
--Written by Stephanie Wenclawski, daughter of nominator

photo of Viola Gibson

Mrs. Viola Gibson was born in Bethel Springs, Tennessee on September 6, 1905 and was one of five children. Her Father was a minister and farmer and her mother a school teacher.  After her mother’s death, at the age of nine, the family moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In Cedar Rapids, Viola left school when she was 14 to work to help support the family, later returning to complete high school several years later. After graduation, Viola got married, became the mother of six children, and pursued a nursing degree to become a practical nurse and a Red Cross Home Nursing Instructor. Viola also studied at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois and was ordained as a minister in 1954 by the board of the Christ Sanctified Holiness Church. Viola later became the Pastor and served in this capacity for more than twenty years, where she served the Cedar Rapids community in numerous roles.

Viola Gibson’s faith and her lifelong work in the Church gave purpose and determination to the numerous civic and community activities in which she became a part. This community involvement, spanning more than seventy years, made her a true champion in the area of human and civil rights for all.

Her many accomplishments include founding the Cedar Rapids Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1942; setting up the first adult evening classes on Black History within the State of Iowa; advocating and pushing for the teaching of African American History in the Cedar Rapids community schools; serving on numerous Cedar Rapids Mayor’s committees for the Oak Hill – Jackson area; serving as a member of the Cedar Rapids-Marion Council on Human Relations since its inception in 1961; and serving as a member of the Jane Boyd Community House Board of Directors; among other community service roles. She was also the recipient of numerous civic awards and honors including Outstanding Citizen of Iowa (by the U.S. and Cedar Rapids Jaycees), Churchman of the year (by the Cedar Rapids-Marion Area Council of Churches), Outstanding Older Iowan (by the Governor’s Conference on Aging), and Outstanding Black Woman (by the Black Women’s Civic Organization), among other honors. In 1970, the Viola Gibson Park was dedicated to her namesake, and in 2002, the Cedar Rapids Community School District opened the Viola Gibson School in her honor.