Social justice has always been a force in Art Pitz's life. It made the historian the perfect person to spend two years researching the emergence and movement of civil rights through Davenport and the Quad Cities. The culmination of this work is "Davenport's Civil Rights Movement: 1945-1974," a joint project of the Putnam Museum, the Davenport Civil Rights Commission and St. Ambrose.
Funded through a grant by Humanities Iowa, the project incorporates a permanent display at the Putnam Museum including a re-creation of the barber shop operated by civil rights activists Charles and Ann Toney, a traveling schools exhibit, and a walking tour of sites around the Quad Cities where great moments in the fight for civil rights occurred just as they did around the country.
As Ambrose's scholar-in-residence, Pitz documented the college's "significant influence" in the movement, beginning with Fathers Bill and Ed O'Connor. The faculty brothers' activism in the 1940s included
carrying out surveys that provided evidence of discrimination and segregation in the community.
The O'Connors were a source of inspiration to then-student Msgr. Marvin Mottet '52, who would eventually take his own leadership position in the local civil rights movement serving as chaplain of the Catholic Interracial Council (CIC). It was the CIC that spearheaded establishing the Pacem in Terris award, which brought to the Quad Cities such visionaries as Cesar Chavez, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr. An audio recording of King's acceptance speech at St. Ambrose in 1965 is part of the exhibit.
In fact, CIC is one of the unique aspects of Davenport's progression toward equal rights. "Most U.S. leadership activity came from African American Baptists, but the Davenport leadership was from African American Catholics, strongly supported by the Diocese of Davenport," Pitz says.
St. Ambrose's involvement is evident throughout the exhibit, and helped put Davenport on the path for a "more peaceful" process than elsewhere in the nation.
"This is a distinction for Davenport and the national civil rights movement," Pitz says. "And St. Ambrose played a big part in it."
"Davenport's Civil Rights Movement: 1945-1974" is on display in the St. Ambrose Library through May 28.