Waterloo civil rights activist honored in new project - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo civil rights activist honored in new project

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A downtown Waterloo project is bringing a beacon of hope to a historic neighborhood and honoring those who came before it.

A local civil rights leader was selected as the namesake for a community room in a brand-new grocery store in the Walnut Neighborhood.

Since the 1960's, Willie Mae Wright has been in the Walnut Neighborhood, an area of town that once was home to the city's doctors and lawyers.

"There were times when we weren't allowed in this area. I think I was about the third person to move on to Almond Street. All those other houses we occupied by whites," recalls Wright.

Always a changing force, Wright has served the community in countless ways. Most notably as a 10-year city council member and a civil rights activist.

With a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior displayed proudly, developer and Waterloo native, Rodney Anderson, and Wright sit at her kitchen table Tuesday night. The two talking about the hope the All In Grocery Store brings to the Walnut Neighborhood.

"We haven't had a black developer develop something and carry it out," said Wright.

But the All In Grocery Store and Grandma's Hands Restaurant is about more than business. Anderson's goal is to create a hub for community activity and pride.

"We have contractors that will make the brick and mortar, but the community is going to make the grocery store," said Anderson.

That's why it was such an easy choice to name the community room after a woman that has been all in for the Walnut Neighborhood, an area that has weathered decades of hardship.

"She never fought for just something. She fought for people because, without people, there is nothing. It is all about her, that is who Miss Willie Mae Wright is, the people," said Anderson.

"Oh, you make me feel so big," responded Wright.

"Because you are," replied Anderson.

Despite her many accomplishments, Wright remains humble; still surprised when someone thinks to honor her in such a way.

"It was such a shock. It shocked me, and tears came and my knees went weak," said Wright, describing the moment Anderson announced the naming during Monday's council meeting. "I didn't know what to say. I couldn't say anything except, 'Thank you.'"

Wright will have the honor of breaking ground on the project on April 2.

Anderson plans to have the grocery store, restaurant, and community center open by the end of this year. 

He says he hopes this project will encourage other investors to see the potential in the Walnut Neighborhood.

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