African Americans in Davenport, Iowa
Original Author: Andrew Demeulemeester, ENG348 FL09

The Quad Cities saw a lot of African American migration before and during the Civil War period and then during the early twentieth century.It seems that Davenport, Iowa saw the biggest part of these migration booms.The first wave of African American migration came in the late nineteenth century just before and during the Civil War.Migration to Davenport became so popular due to the fact that it was a major port city and because ports in Missouri were too hostile towards African Americans.Davenport also became the 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.

Throughout the course of 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 the 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, who owned a saloon which also happened to be a prostitution business for both whites and African Americans.She decided to do this after holding her business after about three different locations. Mattie’s business actually drew more customers to Linsey’s business.Over the course of one year the price of Linsey’s business more than quadrupled.These businesses were also very prosperous due to the fact that there was a train depot nearby, which drew the African American workers.Although Mattie’s place was labeled as a restaurant in the city directory, the city new she was running a “house of ill-fame”, and she was arrested quite frequently for it (Wood 97).Woods also states that the city only charged her a fifty cent dog tax, but couldn’t always afford even that (Wood 97).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, who was 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.

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.Louis Armstrong 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…).

One African American who was native to Davenport 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 popular African American individuals from Davenport.There 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.They cover popular businesses to attend, all the way down to the different types of breweries and the kinds of alcohol available.

After some very exciting research I have come to find that African Americans left a great mark on the Quad Cities area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.They heavily influenced our music styles with the arrival of jazz and blues, also influencing 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 starting the African American business district.

Works Cited

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