Race and race relations

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa African-American Hall of Fame recognizes the outstanding achievements of African-Americans who have enhanced the quality of life for all Iowans. Since its inception in 2002, 65 Iowans have been inducted into the IAAHF. This year, they inducted four.

Kesho Scott

University of Iowa Press

Between the 1930s and the 1960s, northern universities became a destination for black students from the south looking for the kinds of opportunities they didn't have access to back home.  The process of integrating Iowa's public universities was long and slow.  Black athletes and artists were among the first students to cross the academic color line in Iowa City.   This hour, we'll hear about a new book that tells the stories of many of the black students who were among the first to study at the University of Iowa.

Nick Wiebe / Wikimedia Commons

Even before her involvement with the Black Panther Party in the 1970s, Angela Davis has been advocating for change. She grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama where family friends were victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Her experience of being on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List galvanized her as an activist. Today, she is a Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California Santa Cruz and the author of many books.

Lou Gold / Flickr

A bill eliminating the terms 'Oriental' and 'Negro' from federal documents sailed through Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama last week. Now, official documents will use the words 'Asian American' and 'African American.' Mae Ngai, Lung Professor of Asian American studies and professor of history at Columbia University, says the move is long overdue.

"It's a welcome change. It's symbolic, of course, but nobody wants to be insulted, even if it's symbolically."

New reforms to Iowa sentencing code in the areas of child endangerment, non-violent drug offense, and robbery were signed into law on Thursday. Gov. Terry Branstad calls the legislation "a balanced approach" aimed at making Iowa’s criminal justice system more equitable.

Child Endangerment

People convicted of child endangerment resulting in death in Iowa now must serve 30 to 70 percent of their sentence before they can be paroled. Though the crime has the sentence of 50 years, offenders have been immediately eligible for parole.

Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia / Wikimedia Commons

Supporters of a sentencing reform bill approved by the Iowa legislature this session call it a "step in the right direction," despite the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that more steps are needed to address racial disparities in Iowa's criminal justice system.

The bill is awaiting Governor Terry Branstad's signature.

Victor Daly / Ft. Des Moines Museum

Nearly 100 years after the Army's first black officers' training program debuted in Iowa, dozens of old photographs have been discovered showing what life was like when Fort Des Moines was gearing up for World War I. 

The country's oldest African American fraternity returned to its early roots this month when the Fort Des Moines Museum welcomed members of Alpha Phi Alpha in remembering their brothers from generations ago. In 1917, the national fraternity helped recruit black college students to become officers, and a racial barrier was broken. 

Al Ravenna, World Telegram & Sun

Thurgood Marshall is a familiar name to most, and his work as a Supreme Court Justice is known to many. But his enormous success as an attorney fighting for civil rights is not as prominent in our minds. Author Wil Haygood says that part of his life and legacy laid the groundwork for his Supreme court appointment. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

African-American activists cheered as Governor Branstad today signed into law one of the legislative priorities of the NAACP.    

The bill will keep court records confidential in most juvenile cases.  

The bill came out of the Governor’s Working Group on Justice Policy Reform.

Activists argue that black juvenile offenders are most affected because of their disproportionate  numbers in the courts.   

Washington Area Spark / Flickr

In May of 1917, the first class of African-American officers in U.S. military history were trained at Fort Des Moines.

Chad Williams, associate professor of African and African-American Studies at Brandeis University, says the fight to establish the class was an arduous one. Joel Spingarn, a white man and former NAACP leader, struck a deal with the General Leonard Wood: if he could find 200 acceptable candidates, they would create a training camp for them. In the end, 1200 men came to train, and 639 graduated.  

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

A bill aimed at preventing racial profiling by Iowa law enforcement passed a State Senate subcommittee on Wednesday. Key components of the NAACP-penned legislation include training, a community-policing advisory board, and mechanisms for tracking officer interactions in hopes of identifying racially motivated stops.

WIKICOMMONS / Klaus with K

Iowa’s NAACP chapter is asking state lawmakers to pass a number of significant criminal justice reforms this year. The organization says these reforms will improve the lives of African-Americans in Iowa who are arrested and incarcerated at disproportionately high rates.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to make it easier for convicted criminals to re-enter the workforce after they’ve served their time was under discussion at the statehouse. 

So-called “Ban the Box” legislation is a top priority of the NAACP.  

Some job applications include a box to check if the applicant has a criminal history.   Advocates say for some that automatically impedes re-entry into normal society.  

Betty Andrews with the NAACP says blacks are affected most because of their disproportionate numbers in the criminal justice system.

WIKICOMMONS / Bobak Ha'Eri

Sioux City municipal employees are at work Monday, but next year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be a paid holiday. A new contract negotiated by AFSCME for 400 city staff takes effect in 2017, and one provision included the civil rights leader's birthday. 

Sioux City's NAACP chapter says its been raising the issue of the federal holiday not being a city holiday for decades. 

Dick DeMarsico / Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Two Iowa museums are offering special programming on Martin Luther King Day today, that examines the country's complicated history with race.

The African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids is giving a presentation on Martin Luther King’s life and legacy. It's also screening a documentary on the Children’s March, a protest which was part of the 1963 Birmingham Civil Rights campaign. 

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

Iowa’s Chief Justice Mark Cady is calling on the state to pay closer attention to who serves on juries as a way of reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. During his annual Condition of the Judiciary address on Wednesday, Cady told lawmakers one of the ways Iowa can work to combat inequality is to track and maintain data on the racial composition of juries.

"The internal data will help us determine if [the] jury selection process we use could be improved," says Cady.

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

Two African-style hair braiders in Des Moines are suing the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences.

Hair braiders in Iowa are required to complete 2,100 hours at a licensed cosmetology school and pass an exam, even though these requirements generally don’t train or test the practice of African-style hair braiding. The lawsuit says Iowa code is burdensome, arbitrary and impair a hair-braider’s “constitutional right to economic liberty.”

University of Iowa

Women's health pioneer Byllye Avery has for more than 40 years been on the front lines of the women's heath movement in the United States.  It was her husband's sudden death at age 33 that was the catalyst for her commitment to improve the health of the African-American community.   She told IPR that it was 1970 and she and her husband, who was close to getting his doctorate, had two small children and a third child on the way.  But she says the health care system at the time did not make it clear to them how deadly high-blood pressure could be and her husband tragically died of a massive h

Joyce Russell/IPR

The NAACP held a day-long symposium Friday on the overrepresentation of African-Americans in Iowa prisons.   

The symposium addressed a wide range of issues, from racial profiling to the underrepresentation of minorities on Iowa juries.  

The NAACP cites statistics showing the overrepresentation of minorities in corrections is worse in Iowa than in any other state, in particular for drug offenses.  

Arnold Woods with the Des Moines NAACP says it’s not an abstract topic for blacks.

Flickr / IowaPipe

The Iowa City Police Department is updating its arrest policy to emphasize communication after a cell phone video surfaced online. The footage, filmed last month, shows the arrest of a 15-year-old black male by white police officer, Travis Graves, at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center.

Angelo Mercado/flickr

With some opposition, the Iowa Senate today approved a resolution that will allow the Meskwaki settlement near Tama to assume jurisdiction for criminal justice.

Tama County oversees law enforcement and prosecutions at the settlement.  

The resolution asks the federal government to repeal a 1948 law giving the state of Iowa oversight of offenses by Meskwakis against Meskwakis.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says tribal leaders  have been asking for this for a long time.

Comissão de Educação, Cultura e Esporte

One of the two laureates receiving the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in children’s rights was nominated by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.

Photo Courtesy of Serhat Tanyolocar

A controversial public art piece created by a Turkish artist in 2010 was taken down after sitting on the University of Iowa campus for less than four hours Friday.

Kansas State Historical Society

Six years before the Civil War officially began, shots were fired in the Kansas Territory in the fight between pro-slavery settlers and free staters.

Keith Allison

The U.S. Patent Office says the Washington Redskins' federal trademarks must be canceled. Today on River to River we ask - what’s in a name?

Underwood & Underwood / Public Domain/Library of Congress

In Iowa, many of us are proud of our progressive history, but that doesn't mean we don't have skeletons in our closets, and even some Ku Klux Klan robes in the attic.  After World War I, life in Iowa changed dramatically, and a lot of people didn't like it.  That disorientation opened the door to the Ku Klux Klan.  Host Charity Nebbe talks with two historians from Mason City about the history of the Klan in Iowa.  We heard from numerous listeners whose families had direct experience with the KKK, including Larry in Des Moines.  Charity talked with Larry after the show, and he shared this st

David Peterson

Hundreds of Olympic gold medalists have competed at the Drake Relays, but the event isn’t just for the track and field elite; it’s also a career highlight for many high school athletes.

Today on Talk of Iowa, 105 years of the Drake Relays. Host Charity Nebbe talks with Relays Director Brian Brown and Pulitzer Prize Winning photographer David Peterson. Also, Knoxville's Randy Wilson joins to remember his record winning 800 meter race - a record that still stands today.

The Drake Relays - history, highlights, and what it means to Iowa.

Joyce Russell / Iowa Public Radio

The City of Dubuque has reached an informal agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, over allegations the city discriminated against African Americans applying for housing assistance. The city has denied the HUD’s claims.

John Nakamura Remy / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

In 1942, the U.S. Government issued evacuation notices “to all persons of Japanese ancestry.”  In the wake of Pearl Harbor, more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans were forced out of their homes and into internment camps.  In this 'Talk of Iowa' program, Iowa State University Professor Emeritus and author Neil Nakadate talks about his family’s incarceration and his new memoir Looking After Minidoka.

Pages