Groundbreaking For Statue Honoring National Bar Association

Nov 4, 2016

In the 1920s, bar associations refused African American lawyers membership, so a dozen lawmakers formed their own in Des Moines. The founding of the National Bar Association in 1925 will be honored with a 30-foot statue this spring called “A Monumental Journey.”  It will be installed this spring in a downtown Des Moines park.

During a groundbreaking ceremony, Polk County District Judge Odell McGhee says the 12 founders refused to allow the status quo of denying African American lawyers access to a bar.

“They decided since they were denied admission to the ABA, or the American Bar Association, that they would, they’d just start their own,” says McGhee.  “That spirit is what has lifted me, because from my perspective, when you’re denied something, start your own!”

Polk County District Judge Odell McGhee speaks in Hansen Triangle Park during the groundbreaking ceremony for the statue "A Monumental Journey." The sculpture honors the 1925 founding of the National Bar Association in Iowa.
Credit John Pemble / IPR

The statue will be in the form of two cylinder shapes, representing the body of an African drum.  A larger one will be on top looking like it will fall if slightly moved.  Judge McGhee says the fragile balance illustrates how contrast can bring about clarity, especially in legal practices.

“With the idea that we can have two different perspectives, balance them on each other, and come to a conclusion that is just for all that is concerned.  Even though they are differing and far far apart, if we can just find that, that little area where everybody can agree, that is where you find justice.”

The statue is designed by Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall who will travel to Des Moines this spring to build it with black bricks.