116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As I began researching Herbert Richard “Hub” Wright for my second Black History Month Time Machine, a familiar name caught my eye: Gomer.
Wright’s wife, Bernice, was a member of the Gomer family of Cedar Rapids. The two were married in the summer of 1896 in Cedar Rapids when Wright was a student at the University of Iowa.
Bernice’s sister, Nina, also married that summer. Nina had graduated from Wilberforce College in Ohio in May and came home to marry Dr. W.E.B. DuBois. The couple moved to Philadelphia where DeBois, a Harvard-education civil rights activist, became nationally known.
Born in Marshalltown in 1872, Wright aspired to be better than average. He was a kicker on the Marshalltown High School team in 1892. He was a file clerk in the 25th Iowa General Assembly in 1894.
He chaired the St. Paul District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church at its convention in Cedar Rapids in 1897.
He was no turn-the-other-check Christian, though.
In 1898, The Iowa Bystander, the African American newspaper based in Des Moines, reported a fight between Wright and a local boxer at a social at Marshalltown’s Second Baptist Church. When the boxer, who was married, tried to take Wright’s sister home, Wright intervened with a razor and sent the interloper home with some cuts instead of Wright’s sister.
In another instance, at a track and field meet in Iowa CIty, three inebriated young men were behaving obnoxiously. Wright asked them to stop using foul language in front of the women. When they responded by calling him a vile name, Wright attacked, to the delight of bystanders.
“As a result, the much bruised and astonished trio took their leave, and everyone accorded the laurel wreath to Hub,” the Marshalltown Times-Republican reported.
Wright graduated from the University of Iowa law school on June 12, 1901.
As a lawyer, he lost his first case defending a client accused of disseminating pornography but demonstrated the oratory skills that would boost his career.
Wright and two other Iowans formed the Des Moines law firm of Thompson Wright & Holt, in July 1901, with offices at the Iowa Loan & Trust building. As the firm was getting on its feet, Wright worked as a waiter at the Kirkwood Hotel in Des Moines to help pay the bills.
Wright also became editor of the Emancipator, a journal focusing on Blacks in the Des Moines area.
He gained a reputation as an effective, honest lawyer. In defending a woman who had a bad reputation, Wright pleaded with the judge for leniency at sentencing. The judge asked if the woman had reformed. Wright replied, “Oh, no, judge, but she’s doing better, judge, she’s doing better.”
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Wright as U.S. consul to Honduras, part of his effort to appoint more Blacks to the prestigious posts.
The year before, however, the State Department had rejected Roosevelt’s appointment of Wright as consul to the Dominican Republic. The department decided that because Wright was “colored,” it would be better to assign a white man to the post so as not to “cause offense” to the Dominican people, the Marshalltown newspaper reported..
But Wright was approved for the post in Honduras, where he served four years in Puerto Plata and Utila. During his last year in Utila, Wright and his wife came down with severe cases of yellow fever.
In August 1908, the couple returned to Iowa on furlough. Wright participated in William Howard Taft’s presidential campaign, returned to his law practice and started a real estate business. He also helped organize a new Elks lodge in Des Moines.
Roosevelt again tapped Wright for a U.S. consulate job in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, in January 1909. The job paid $2,000 per year, or about $57,000 in today’s dollars.
Several revolutions came and went while Wright was stationed there. When he left, the country’s main industry, coffee, was controlled by Germans.
Wright’s mother, Sarah, died in April 1917. After the funeral, her body was placed in a receiving vault at the family plot in Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown until Wright could get home for the burial.
Back in Iowa
The Wrights, who had no children, returned to Iowa for good in May 1917 after nine years in Venezuela.
Soon after his return, Wright joined efforts to get Iowa Gov. W.L. Harding to stem the tide of Blacks moving from Alabama to Iowa. Blacks living in Des Moines said there wasn’t enough housing to accommodate the new arrivals.
The effort drew some sharp words from an Iowa Bystander editorial writer.
“It is a pity that some colored people up here would have the effrontery to go to our governor to protest against colored people coming to Iowa,” the editorial stated. “Shame on such a person. No doubt their own ancestry a few years ago came from the South. Iowa is large enough and rich enough to accommodate 50,000 more farmers and laborers.”
In the 1920s, Wright became director of community services at the Crocker Street YMCA and the Tenth Street YWCA in Des Moines.
In January 1921, he was one of 30 Black lawyers admitted to the bar in Iowa and honored for his years as U.S. consul in Central and South America.
Wright died at his Des Moines home Dec. 27, 1931, at age 59. The six Polk County district judges held a memorial service with a resolution to honor Wright on May 21, 1932.
Following his death, his widow moved to Dubuque, Iowa Falls and Marshalltown. She died in 1940 in Iowa Falls.
The Wrights are buried in Marshalltown in unmarked graves.