African Americans influence in the Quad Cities
Original Author: Andrew Demeulemeester, ENG348 FL09
Revision Author: Bobby Dillon, ENG 346 FL12

The Quad Cities saw a lot of African American migration, both before and during the Civil War period, and again during the early twentieth century. Of the Quad Cities, Davenport, Iowa experienced the most changes as a resultof these migration booms. The first wave of African American migration came in the late nineteenth century just before and during the Civil War. Davenport became a popular destination because it was a major port city and because ports in Missouri were too hostile towards African Americans. Davenport also became a major battle ground for a civil rights movement that took place on October 31, 1865 .Seven hundred members of the 60th U.S. infantry came to Camp McClellan in Davenport shortly after the war. Under the leadership of Alexander Clark from Muscatine, Iowa they fought for the right to vote and other civil rights. Finally in 1868 a referendum was passed that gave African Americans the right to vote.

Prominent African-American Quad Citians

Throughout the city’s history, Davenport has come to know some very interesting individuals. One of these individuals who came to own a very popular business is Linsey Pitts. Linsey Pitts was a former slave from Missouri and a veteran from the Civil War. Before his business he worked as a laborer and a barber. Eventually, Linsey opened the very first African American saloon in Davenport. He opened it at 120 East Fifth Street. After the opening of this saloon, Fifth Street became a hot spot for African Americans. Many other African American businesses came to Fifth Street after they saw how prosperous Linsey’s business had become. One woman who moved her business to Fifth Street was Mattie Burke, the owner of a saloon/brothel which catered to whites and blacks alike. She had changed the location of her business three times before finding a home on East Fifth. As a result, Mattie’s business drew more customers to Linsey’s , and Over the course of a year the price of Linsey’s business more than quadrupled. These businesses were prosperous due to the fact that there was a train depot nearby, which drew the African American workersfrom all over the country.

Although Mattie’s place was labeled as a restaurant in the city directory, the city knew she was running a “house of ill-fame,” and she was arrested frequently for it (Wood 97). Woods states that the city only charged her a fifty cent dog tax, but she couldn’t always afford even that (Wood 97).

One African American, and Davenport native, wrote a book about African American life in the Quad Cities area. William L. Purcell published his book Them Was the Good Old Days in 1922. Throughout this book the reader is able to find information on some of the more well-known African American individuals from Davenport. Within the book are stories about normal individuals who would have otherwise never been recorded in history. Among these individuals you can find John Hanover Warwick, a very popular barber who owned his own shop on Third Street. In this book Purcell describes this place as a place “where business men dropped in to enjoy the quaint philosophy of the former slave” (Purcell, 148). Another interesting individual Purcell mentions in his book is an African American by the name of General George Washington. General George Washington is recorded as the first African American man to marry a white woman.

One individual who stands out above many others is Jake Busey. Jake Busey was the first African American to graduate from a public school. The information that can be found in this book covers a wide variety, so there should be something for everybody. It covers popular businesses, including the different types of breweries and the kinds of alcohol available.

Another well-known African American figure who came to live in the Quad Cities was Dred Scott. Dred Scott was a slave to Dr. Emerson, a surgeon in the U.S. Army. In 1834, the surgeon and Scott moved from Missouri to Fort Armstrong in Rock Island, Illinois, where Scott remained for two years (Labath).Eventually Dred Scott moved to Minnesota where he would attempt to fight for his freedom because he was brought into this free territory.

The Music of the Quad Cities

African Americans also heavily influenced the music style of Davenport. The riverboats that traveled up and down the Mississippi river often brought along some well-known musicians with them. One individual of great importance was Louis Armstrong, who was said to have brought Jazz to the Davenport area. He has even been credited for inspiring Davenport’s own Bix Biederbecke. In 1914 Davenport gained a great asset to its music world, the Coloseum, also referred to as the Col. This provided Davenport with a great venue to attend jazz and blues performances for years to come (African Americans in…).

In addition to the Col, Louis Armstrong frequently played the clubs lining Rock Island’s famous Second Avenue. “It was the jazz-me-blues Mecca of Music,” writes Thomas Geyer (1999). “[There was] no greater slot for big-time jazz than Second Avenue, Rock Island, in the 1940s and into the 1950s.” While Second Avenue was the “Mecca,” the Horse Shoe Lounge was its mosque. Geyer writes, of Second Avenue, “It was a block of music, cornered by the hottest of all spots, the Horse Shoe Lounge. There, through the fog-haze of cigarettes, the smoky tones of Sara ‘The Divine’ Vaughn, silenced the crowd with ‘My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine,’” (129).

The Horse Shoe, which eventually went on to be called The Paddock, has seen its fair share of mega-stars. Speck Redd, Les Paul, Mary Ford, and Louis Armstrong all passed through the Horse Shoe at one time or another (in Louis Armstrong’s case, several times). “The Horse Shoe,” Geyer writes, “at 1601 Second Avenue, was the hangout for jazz lovers who came here from as far away as Cedar Rapids and Peoria.”

The lounge’s success is, undoubtedly, because of Second Avenue’s inexplicable ability to draw massive names to what would, otherwise, be a relatively small, obscure town in the Midwest. “Al Barnes, who ran the showplace from 1941 to 1952, inew how and where to book the best,” Geyer writes. “Customers paid $1.25 to get in and the waiting line would stretch a half-block. The oval bar was long, a place where at least a hundred could elbow, while the stars performed in the middle” (129).

“The club saw its best years between 1949 and 1951,” Geyer reports. After which, “Barnes sold the [club] in 1952 after realizing that the days when big jazz entertainers could craw large crowds were just about over,” (129). Though the Horse Shoe’s heyday was short-lived, it has left a lasting effect upon the Quad Cities, and was the major venue for what became a veritable boom period for jazz music in the Quad Cities.

African Americans have had a profound effect upon the Quad Cities area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. African Americans have heavily influenced the area’s culture, in the form of jazz and blues musicinfluencing the Davenport native Bix Biederbecke, whom we continue to celebrate every summer. One individual left us with a very interesting piece of literature, which allows us to take a look into the lives of African Americans of this time period,and we remember Linsey Pitts who began his own saloon and greatly influenced Davenport by building the foundation around which the African American business district was formed.

From Dred Scott to Louis Armstrong, the Quad Cities has long been a home for influential cultural and historical African-American figures.

Works Cited
“African Americans in Davenport, Iowa.”Wikipedia, 2009.,_Iowa
Labath, Cathy. "The Civil War." (2007).Web. 18 Dec 2009.
Purcell, William L.Them Was the Good Old Days.Purcell Printing Company, 1922.
Wood, Sharon E.The Freedom of the Streets: Work, Citizenship, and Sexuality in a Gilded Age. The University of North Carolina Press, 2005.Print.

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