Uncovering Davenport's hidden history

DAVENPORT, Iowa - The city of Davenport has played a significant role in African-American history, one that dates back to the early 1800's. The challenge is uncovering it, as much of this history has been erased. Local 4's Emily Scarlett is helping to discover the hidden history of the Quad Cities.
 
Hidden along the streets we now know as downtown Davenport, lies a small sign that reads "Home of a surgeon...and his famous slave."
 
Dred Scott was born a slave but later filed a lawsuit for his freedom, and in the years before that lawsuit, he called Davenport home.
 
 
Dr. Arthur Pitz is a Quad Cities historian, he tells Local 4 News, "Iowa was ahead of the curve in many respects as a territory and as a state when it came to rights for blacks. The great proportion of German's who came here were anti-slavery.
 
John Emerson was a post surgeon on Fort Armstrong, now called the Rock Island Arsenal. He purchased Scott as a slave and personal servant. 
 
"He would have been reasonably well-treated. The attitudes were supportive and helped encourage him to bring this case," says Pitz.
 
Scott's lawsuit claimed that because he had traveled and lived in free states, he should be considered a free man. Chief Justice Roger Taney saw things differently.
 
Pitz says, "A black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect. That's a quote."
 
He may not have known it at the time, but Scott's loss was a big gain for the rights of blacks.
 
"Lincoln picked up on this and gave his famous Cooper Unions speech in New York, which launched him into the presidency," says Pitz. 
 
Still life for Blacks in Davenport was full of growing pains.
 
Historically, parts of Brady Street were the only areas that would rent or sell property to African-Americans, making this area one of the first predominantly black areas in Davenport, but there is nothing here to show that historical significance making this just another stretch of Davenport's hidden history.
 
Pitz says the area was, "Red-lined, that means literally, the real estate agents, if they wanted to keep their licenses, could not sell outside of that area to blacks."
 
But living here came with its fair share of challenges. 
 
"The loaners didn't have much motivation to keep it up. They often lacked running water, often toilets. The apartment building might only have two toilets in the whole building," says Pitz.
 
In 1963, people decided to take matters into their own hands.

 
"You had the largest civil rights march ever in Iowa's history, gather here in the St. Anthony's parking lot."
 
Which happened only five days before the now historic march in Washington, D.C.
 
Pitz tells us, "The purpose was for a peaceful protest to put pressure on the Iowa legislature to pass a fair employment practices law, which is one year before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which accomplished that and more."
 
Today, the only sign of these remarkable contributions from right here in Davenport - only small markers signifying Davenport's big role in African American history."

 
"Unless people are taught and know, it stays out of sight, out of mind," says Pitz.

 


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