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Accession number A2003.006
Collection Virgil Powell
Title The Virgil Powell Collection
Catalog Number A2003.006
Object Name Papers, Personal
Credit line Collection of the AAMI - Courtesy of Phoebe Smtih
Physical characteristics Boxed documents span 1.25 linear feet.
Dates of Creation 1919-1989
Access Conditions Open for research.
Copyrights no known restrictions
Scope & Content The Virgil Powell papers date from 1918 to 1989 and measure 1.25 linear feet. The papers are arranged in 6 series: Personal, Photographs, Musical Compositions, Publications, Writings, and Activities.
The Personal Series (1918 to 1989) entails biographical information, Military Discharge Paper, Police Department, In-Home Health Care, Will and Testament, Funeral, Death Certificate and a variety of information on family members.
The Musical Composition Series (late 1940's - 1952) contains a large array of different songs and lyrics from Virgil. Also, there are relative correspondences, magazine articles, and newspaper record lists.
The Publication Series (1971-1980) contains information on all of his book publications such as "Notable Black Americans," "From the Slave Cabin of Yani," "Adeline: A Child of Yani,' and "A Fury of Passion." Included is the rough draft of "Notable Black Americans", research material for "From the Slave Cabin of Yani" plus publicity material.
The Writing Series (1950 - 1986) contains many different short stories, a Warren Harding Review, Early Iowa Histories, and Lectures.
The Functions and Activities Series ( 1975-1989) contains information on the many activities such as the Freedom Fund Banquet, African American Heritage Week, The Cedar Rapids Negro Civil Organization, and the Rainbow Coalition that Virgil took part in.
The Photographs Series (1900-1980's) contains photographs that range from direct family members to close relatives and friends.
Biographical History Virgil Powell was born near St. Joseph, Missouri in 1891. His parents were born into slavery, but were freed by the Emancipation Act in 1863 and received their freedom accordingly. In 1909 Powell graduated with high honors from Bartlet High School. He then went on to attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. In his freshman year at KU Powell played football, but attending school was difficult financially, and scholarships for black athletes was rare. In 1918 Powell came to Cedar Rapids intending to stay only for a two-day visit, and decided to stay. Through a friend Powell obtained a job driving a coal truck at Haskel Coal Yard, which was a large local company at the time. Then, he attended the first auto-laundry car wash in Cedar Rapids. Years later Powell also operated a successful car wash service. Powell and his partner Bill Olivan would wash, clean, grease, and oil cars. Shortly after moving to Cedar Rapids, Virgil joined the military in 1918 and was stationed at Camp Dodge. He was honorably discharged the same year.

In the early part of the twentieth century, there was no social security for retired workers, and after hearing about pension plans for police officers, Powell applied for a position at the Cedar Rapids Police Department. Powell received a high score on the police examination, but the police department hesitated in giving him a position. The media speculated that it was a matter of prejudice, and many in the community spoke out in support of Powell. Finally, in August 1924, four months after the examination, Powell was offered a position at the police department. His new job helped Powell to become the first black police officer on the force. After serving on the force for five years, Powell was promoted to the Identification Bureau. In his new position he became a finger print expert, and helped establish the Identification Bureau as one of the best in the Midwest. Powell later became the Head of the Identification Department, and after twenty-two years of working for the police department, Powell retired in 1946.

During the late 1940's, Virgil took up the application of writing music. He ended up writing dozens of different songs. Virgil was also accepted into The Nation Sings, of the countries finest publications out of New York in 1952, with the song "I'm Riding and Dreaming." His singles have also been published in newspaper music lists
In addition to his music, he was an avid historical writer. He had such books as Adeline: A Child of Yani, 1979; From the Slave Cabin of Yani, 1971; A Fury of Passion, 1983; and Notable Black Americans all published. His book on Notable Black Americans won fame with TV shows and radio broadcasts. WMT Broadcast Company decided to publish the book in 1971. Virgil also had written a great deal of short stories and lectures.
Outside of music and publications, Virgil was also a very active member in his community. He committed his time to "African American Heritage Week," the "Cedar Rapids Negro Civic Organization," and the "Freedom Banquet" in 1978.
Virgil Powell died on October 18, 1989 in the care of the Smith family. Virgil Powell and the Smith family had been close friends for several years. When Virgil became ill and was no longer able to take care of himself, the Smith family took him in. Virgil died at the age of 99 from Hyperkalemia.

Finding Aids Box no. Description
Box 1
Virgil Powell, Personal
Christmas Cards
Death Certificate
Estate Inventory
In Home Health Care
Insurance Policy, 1987
Oral Histories
Military Discharge Papers
Personal Information
Police Department
Tax Return
Will and Testament
African American Heritage Week, 1975
Cedar Rapids Negro Civil Organization
Colored Women's Club and Organizations
Freedom Fund Banquet, 1978
Institute of American Inventors c. 1947
Inventions, Fishing Glove
Merchandising Print Lecture
Chester Powell
Mrs. Hortense Powell
Jennie Powell
Paul Leonard Powell
Box 2
WMT Newsletter
Newspaper Clippings
Political and Civil Cartoons
Rainbow Coalition, 1989
Unknown Art
Photocopied Photos
Musical Compositions
Correspondences, 1946-1950
Discovery Magazine, 1947
Newspaper Record Lists
The Black Imp
Box 3
Notable Black Americans,
The Book
TV Show
Radio Broadcast Agreement
From the Slave Cabin of Yani,
Book Sale Picture
Adeline: A Child of Yani,
Research Material
Box 4
A Daughter of the Jaloffs
A Fury of Passion,
Book Sales
Book Covers
The Hybrids of Princess Urea
Early Iowa Histories
History of the Negro in Cedar Rapids
How To Write For Money
Short Stories
"The School System of Dr. Dunneuz"
"The Tempest Within"
Warren Harding Review
Box 5
Early 1900's
OS Collection
Motion Picture Song Contest Association poster 1948 titled: "Your Song or Lyric can win $1000 in cash," and 2 entry forms
Cedar Rapids Police Department recruitment poster, 1977
Certificate from the American Legion Assurance Co of the Second District of Iowa, February 15, 1941, to Virgil Powell with and annual premium of $100
Piano Playing Diploma March 11, 1929 to Virgil Powell from the Illinois School of Music
Newspaper clipping, Des Moines Register, November 8, 1979, "Fulfilling A Dream" by Virgil Powell
Newspaper clipping, Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 2, 1986, "Black History in Linn County-how they fared in the earlier days..."
Subjects Police
Search Terms Cedar Rapids
Authors - Cedar Rapids
Family histories
People Powell, Virgil
Classification Entertainment
Business & Commerce
Government & Politics
Creator Virgil Powell