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History Worth Repeating

July 2008


When sophomore Maria Naert signed up for a history class with adjunct professor Art Pitz last fall, little did she know that she herself would soon be helping to record the past for posterity.

Pitz had recently been named a scholar-in-residence by St. Ambrose and charged with creating a living archive chronicling the civil rights movement and its impact in the Quad Cities, a two-year collaborative effort between St. Ambrose, the Davenport Civil Rights Commission and the Putnam Museum in Davenport.

At the heart of the project would be the oral accounts taken from people who had lived through that time period, from around 1941 and into the 1970s. Interviews would be video-recorded, then edited and condensed into a historical documentary for archival purposes.

Pitz tapped into Maria's interest and enthusiasm by engaging her as a research student to conduct some of the interviews. "We interviewed people about their childhood and how they got involved with the movement," says Maria, an East Moline native who is a triple major in history, English and German. Over several months, she talked to about 30 people ranging from a former member of the Klu Klux Klan to the first black wrestling champion at an Iowa university.

Maria was particularly captivated by the story of Bernice Jones, a black woman who started out as a janitor at the Rock Island Arsenal in 1960 and worked her way up to become the Equal Employment Opportunity officer. "She really knew how to go on pushing and get the best out of life, even during the struggle for what some people saw as an impossible reality," Maria says of Jones. "She'll never stop speaking out about the importance of civil rights locally."

The project is on schedule to be finished by the end of this year, Maria says, and will eventually be showcased at the Putnam Museum. She's looking forward to seeing-and hearing-the stories about this important era in Quad Cities' history.

"I definitely enjoyed interviewing people and hearing their stories," she says. "Because of this work, I've increased my interest in history."

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