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Sioux City gathers to celebrate community civil-rights leaders

Sioux City Journal | 10/02/15
by: Mike Bell
Photo by: Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | The atmosphere was both solemn and jubilant Thursday outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Transportation Center as community members dedicated the first five sculptures in a project honoring those who have helped the marginalized.

Four of the artworks, part of the Celebrating Community Project, are busts representing local people who have made notable contributions to creating a better society. They are Beulah Webb, Sgt. John Rice, Connie Spain and Rabbi Albert Gordon.

“I knew I’d be on the street someday, but I didn’t think it would be like this,” Spain, who attended the ceremony, said with a laugh.

Spain, 93, is being honored for her efforts to help those recovering from addiction and substance abuse. A former nurse in Sioux City, she helped define alcoholism as a disease rather than a problem among the poor. She was integral in the creation of shelters for those suffering from addiction.

Kermit Dahlen, CEO of Jackson Recovery Centers, said Spain’s work inspired and saved him from his own issues with addiction.

“She was instrumental in my own recovery of my diseases,” he said.

All five sculptures were created by McCook Lake artist Mark Avery. A soaring steel arc was installed in June and will tie together a total 13 bronze busts. The arc symbolizes a quote from civil-rights leader King: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

Flora Lee, who heads the Celebrating Community Project and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which hosted Thursday’s event, said it was exciting to see the new pieces join an existing bust of King.

“It’s a great honor to the community. I’m overwhelmed by it,” Lee said.

She said she hopes the project will be completed within the next 12 months.

Webb, honored in the category for the elderly, founded the Sioux City Senior Center in 1973. She was president and membership chair of the Woodbury County Council on Aging, which doubled its membership in two years. She was named an Iowa delegate to the White House Commission on Aging in 1971 and later assigned to the commission’s housing committee.

Her grandson, Harry Bryson, thanked those present.

“She was a marvelous woman. She was very prideful,” Bryson said.

Gordon, honored in the category for Jewish Americans, was active in the NAACP, Sioux City Ministerial Association, Travelers Aid Society and Council of Community Services. He was rabbi of Mount Sinai Temple in Sioux City and appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on the National Commission on Human Rights, among other achievements.

Eric Blumberg of the Kind World Foundation recalled Gordon’s guiding principle.

“He believed that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” Blumberg said.

Rice, honored in the veterans category, was killed in action in South Korea in 1950. He rose to national prominence after a Sioux City cemetery refused burial for his remains because he was a Winnebago Indian. President Harry Truman intervened and ordered Rice buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

But Rice was much more than a symbol of discrimination to his daughter, Pamela Goodwin, who attended Thursday’s dedication.

“He was a son, husband, father and soldier,” she said.

As shown in Sioux City Journal’s 10-02-2015. Please visit Sioux City Journal – article for full article and photos.