By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT – Students at All Saints Catholic School had the opportunity to see a civil rights display in their building and listen to a personal account of the Civil Rights Movement.
Fifth-grade teacher Eileen O’Brien learned the Putnam Museum in Davenport had its civil rights display available to schools for a nominal fee. The display typically is available for four weeks at a time, but O’Brien worked with the Putnam to have the display for a week.
During the week of Feb. 27-March 2, students in fourth through eighth grades took turns visiting the display in the school’s media center. “Teachers explained it as they went along,” O’Brien said.
The display was intended for fifth grade and up, but the option was given to the fourth-grade teachers who jumped at the opportunity to view it.
On March 1, Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba spoke with students about his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement. He is a graduate of Sacred Heart Catholic School, Assumption High School and St. Ambrose College, all in Davenport.
The mayor first asked the students about their understanding of prejudice. They defined it as people having different eye color or skin color and not being accepted.
“Prejudice is an opinion formed before all the facts or without real knowledge,” he told them. There are all kinds of prejudice based on skin, hair or eye color, having glasses, the clothing or styles worn, or even food. “You arrive at a conclusion before you get to know them,” he said.
“There was a lot of prejudice in my neighborhood,” added Gluba, who grew up on Farnam Street in Davenport during the 1950s in a culturally diverse neighborhood. “I played with kids of different skin colors. But the adults were treated differently.” He cited an example of adults not wanting a child of a different race inside their home.
With the Putnam’s display as his background, Gluba talked about how he got involved in the Civil Rights Movement and pointed to pictures of civil rights activists he personally knew. While a student at Assumption, Gluba had then-Father Marvin Mottet as a teacher. “We were probably too young to appreciate what he was telling us at the time, but he planted a seed about social justice in my head. And he continues to do it today to people he comes into contact with.”
Gluba pointed to a picture of the late civil rights activist Charles Toney, who was president of the Catholic Interracial Council. He, Fr. Mottet, other priests and individuals promoted the Civil Rights Movement in the Quad Cities. Fr. Mottet and the priests who taught Gluba at St. Ambrose “provided an intellectual background and taught us that we should be more Christ-like,” Gluba added.
In 1963 Fr. Mottet organized a group to attend the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. Gluba attended and was among 400,000 people who listened in person to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
In 1965, King received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award in Davenport. Gluba said the late Rev. King couldn’t have imagined a black Baptist minister receiving an award from a Catholic institution (the Catholic Interracial Council) inside a Masonic Temple.
“There was lots of bigotry at the time,” Gluba said. “But the Rev. King saw this as something different and saw (people’s) support of each other.”
The mayor told stories about how African Americans were treated throughout U.S. history, saying that conditions were even harsher in the South. There were separate schools, water fountains and restrooms for African Americans. “The black students couldn’t even go out for sports. They were seen as inferior.” Latinos as well as African Americans faced discrimination in Davenport, too. He told the students that some Latino families once lived in sheds or boxcars near Davenport’s Credit Island. “The Sisters at St. Mary’s gave them clothes for school.” A priest at St. Ambrose and his class helped move those families into better homes in another part of the city.
Gluba reminded the students they are made in the image of Christ and emphasized the importance of finishing school. “You can do whatever you want. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. You might need some help, but there are unlimited opportunities.”
Students impressed by history
All Saints Catholic School students shared their thoughts about the Civil Rights Movement display and talk by Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba:
“I found it kind of unbelievable that African Americans were treated so miserably, but that they managed to find a way to succeed.” — Will Rolfstad, fourth grade.
“I was really interested because Mr. Gluba knew so much about Black History, especially in Davenport. Also, he had a lot of friends who were black.” — Brandon Loos, seventh grade.
“I thought it was really cool because he was telling us about Davenport and how it used to be. I thought it was amazing that Mr. Gluba knew so many of the people from the exhibit.” — Hydiatu Konneh, eighth grade.