On September 23, 2023, the Grinnell Historical Museum hosted a Hazelwood Cemetery Walk featuring the stories of African Americans of Early Grinnell presented by members of Team Renfrow.
Team Renfrow is a multi-year, intergenerational, and collaborative effort of members of the Grinnell College and town communities. It seeks to bring visibility and recognition to Mrs. Edith Renfrow Smith, who was born, raised, and educated in Grinnell, as well as to other African Americans who have called Grinnell home.
The Summer 2023 Research Edition of Team Renfrow included five people –Grinnell College juniors Hemlock Stanier, Libby Eggert, and Evie Caperton; Monique Shore ’90 of Drake Community Library; and Dr. Tamara Beauboeuf of Grinnell College. They sought to explore Black presence in Grinnell from 1854 to 1930. Their work was deeply informed by Mrs. Renfrow Smith’s many oral histories and the historical photos of her extended family that have been contributed to the Drake Community Library archives. They also relied heavily on Dr. Dan Kaiser’s book, Grinnell Stories: African Americans of Early Grinnell (2020). These sources establish that Black people have been a part of Grinnell since its founding.
Building on these accounts, they spent the summer reviewing census, property, birth, marriage, death, and cemetery records as well as local newspaper archives for what could be learned about how Black people lived and forged belonging in Grinnell. From this research, they created the following cemetery talks about five Black Grinnellians listed below. One goal of this project is to inspire renewed interest in the many individuals and families whose presence has shaped our town.
The featured stories were:
- Edward Delaney (1786 – 1861) was the first permanent Black resident of Grinnell, arriving the year the town was founded (1854). He came to town as a freed man. He lived his life here with the family who had once enslaved him and is buried in their family plot.
- Mumford Holland (1811? – 1916) arrived in Grinnell around 1870. A former slave who had served in the Civil War, he became a well known figure around town. He was next door neighbors to George and Eliza Craig. Not having any children of his own, he left his house to one of the Craig children who cared for him in his final years.
- Eliza Jane Gilbal Craig (1841 – 1924) was the daughter of Jane, an enslaved woman, and a French plantation owner. Before his death her father sent her and her siblings to a free state to be raised by Quakers. They eventually brought her to Springdale, Iowa, where she later met and married George Craig.
- George Craig (1841 – 1924) escaped slavery and came to Iowa via the Underground Railroad, traveling with John Brown in 1859 when they stopped in Grinnell and were hosted by town founder J. B. Grinnell. The story of his 70 years in Iowa will include information pulled from historic newspapers and why he his body is not buried in Hazelwood.
- Eva Pearl Craig Renfrow (1875 – 1962) was a resident of Grinnell from the age of 12 through most of her life. Her passion for learning and education inspired her six children. They all graduated from college, including Edith Renfrow Smith who was the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell College in 1937 and is the namesake of Renfrow Hall.
In order for this project to reach the widest number of interested individuals, below you will find Team Renfrow’s Cemetery Walk narratives as well as recordings of their talks. Team Member Evie Caperton ’25 created the maps of Hazelwood that show the burial locations of 32 African Americans and a document with brief biographical information for each. Additional information found in our research will be archived at Drake Community Library.