The Father of Grinnell

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Grinnell’s history in relation to slavery often points to the man pictured in this block. J.B. Grinnell was a known advocate of abolition, and founded the very town of Grinnell on anti-slavery principles. He worked with the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape to Canada and served in Iowa’s Congress, even though his views on abolition made him quite unpopular amongst many Midwesterners. In the process of researching the life of J.B. Grinnell, the creator of this block was directed to a letter written by L.F. Parker describing an “incipient mob” driving five fugitive slaves out of the town of Grinnell. This letter encourages us to unpack the many layers of white abolitionist intention, and make distinctions between theory and action. While J.B. Grinnell had clearly intended for his town to be a space to live the tenets of the abolitionist movement, in practice this was not always the case. By showcasing this story, the artist urges viewers to contemplate the many phases and evolutions of freedom and abolition, knowing that good intention has yet to be enough.