In 1952, prominent Cedar Rapids businessman Cecil Reed drove to Denver with his wife, Evelyn, and their four children, ranging in age from 9 months to 14 years.
They tried to stay at motels along the way, but every place they stopped turned them away because they were Black.
“Things like that are a little hard to explain to a small child,” Cecil Reed would later say.
When the Reeds got home, they turned a new shop building they’d built at the corner of Bertram and Mount Vernon roads into the Motel Sepia. It was initially reserved for Black travelers but eventually opened to anyone.
The motel had four sleeping units and two bath-and-toilet units. It was the only Iowa motel listed in the 1954 Green Book, a guide for Black travelers. It quickly grew to include 10 buildings on 15 acres.
Reed, who would become the first Black Republican elected to the Iowa Legislature, later donated 11 of those acres for a city park. He sold the motel property to the city in 1964, and the buildings were razed.
Tara Templeman is curator at The History Center in Cedar Rapids. Comments: email@example.com