The Flood of 1870: Bridging the gap between memories and measurements

Last year at this time, we were taking pictures and blogging about the Flood of 2013. This year, so far, finds us nicely dry and warming up after a cold, snowy winter.

But what attracted our attention this week when it was time to choose a subject for this post?

Yes, flooding.

But this time, we’re going back to the year 1870 to explore what flooding was like before flood walls and levee green space helped keep Davenport homes and businesses dry.

The flood of April 1870 was caused most likely by a quicker than normal melting of snow and ice farther up river. There’s no indication in the newspaper accounts of either ice jams or heavy rains being a problem. But by April 20,  both the Davenport Democrat and the Daily Gazette were reporting rising water of the Mississippi River —the only question would be how much damage would be done.

The Democrat reported that the rising water levels were nowhere near the levels of the great floods of 1828 and 1859, which were not measured by feet and inches, but by the memories of old time settlers.

The water continued to rise over the next few days. On the 21st, the ferry dock near the foot of Main Street was surrounded by water and houses on the river bank from Davenport to the East Village had water seeping into their cellars and creeping through their front doors.

By April 22nd, the water was filling all the homes along the Davenport levee.

Businesses were not spared either, as many mills and factories sat along the banks. The mills of Lindsey & Phelps, L.C. Dessaint, J.F. Barnard had water covering their ground floors. Boilers and machinery were destroyed. The Schricker & Mueller lumber yard was underwater, while the M. Donahue machinery shop was a total loss as water entered into sheds where equipment was stored.

The next day fared no better as the river had risen another six inches in 24 hours. A new flood gauge was installed on an Arsenal Bridge pier showing the water was 16 feet above normal river stage. It had reached Front Street (today’s River Drive) and covered the tracks for the horse-drawn trolley up to ten inches in some spots.

The trolley continued— the operator stating that nothing would change until water actually got into the cars.

By the 23rd, newspapers reported that flood waters were at least eight inches above the high water mark for the flood of 1859. This would have been based on memories from those who experienced it, as no official record of the early flood had been kept.

The horse-drawn street cars continued to operate through eighteen inches of water in spots. All of the businesses along Front Street closed due to flooding. A positive note was reported by the Daily Gazette that the river had only risen four more inches in 24 hours.

Both good and bad news came from the Gazette on April 25, 1870. The trolley was running, though through about two feet of water, and the river level seemed to be stable and no longer rising.   The bad news was a reported break in the levee on the Rock Island side. The lower portion of the city of Rock Island had flooded with damage to homes and businesses.

By April 28th, the water had begun to recede, leaving extensive damage on both sides of the river. Measured at 17.0 feet, the April flood of 1870 would remain in the top ten of local floods until 1920, when it was bumped off the list by one-tenth of a foot.

Though long forgotten, the Flood of 1870 and the resulting newspaper accounts did bridge the gap between past floods only measured by landmarks and memories and a new system of gauges and record keeping that began officially in 1874.

One last note: the Daily Gazette reported on April 28th that George L. Davenport had been taken, by boat, on April 26th to inspect his old family home on the Rock Island Arsenal. He found markings made on a building by his father, Colonel George Davenport, to mark the high water line of the great flood of 1828.

It turns out that the flood of 1828 beat the flood of 1870 by fourteen inches.

(posted by Amy D.)


Sources used:

(The Daily Gazette, April 22, 1870)

(Daily Gazette, April 23, 1870)

(Daily Gazette, April 25, 1870)

(Davenport Democrat, April 22, 1870)

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National Library Week: 1961 and Now

The motto for National Library week 1961 was “For a Better-Read, Better-Informed America”. That year, the Davenport Public Library was featured on a half hour TV show, Spectrum, on WHBF.

Both the Davenport Morning Democrat and The Daily Times ran editorials. A full-page 2 color ad appeared on page 11D of the Sunday Times-Democrat for  April 16, 1961:

In a typical month some 10 to 15 thousand men, women and children use the library facilities.

417,000 books, pamphlets, magazines, films and phonograph records were borrowed during the fiscal year which ended

Davenport Public Library - Carnegie building [early 1960's]

Davenport Public Library – Carnegie building [early 1960’s]

March 31st. This is an increase of 30% over the preceding year.2250 8mm films were borrowed in the last 6 months.1700 16mm films were loaned to groups and seen by audiences totaling 45,000.6000 phonograph records were borrowed including foreign language records for home study.

About 2500 young children came to the library story hours, film and children’s theatre programs on Saturday mornings.

20,000 questions of all kinds were asked and answered by the librarians in the reference department.

This year, the Motto for National Library Week is “Lives change @ your library”

Let’s take a look at what else has changed in our library in fifty-three years:

An average of 39,714 people used the library facilities in each of the last 6 months. That includes the Main library and our branches on Fairmount Street and Eastern Avenue.

757,917 total materials checked out in Fiscal Year 2013 (July-June).

210,133 video recordings (DVDs) were borrowed in FY13.

Stone Building, opened October 6, 1968.

Stone Building, opened October 6, 1968.

82,376 audio recordings (music CDs and audiobooks) were borrowed in FY13.

10,020 eBooks, 5,912 eAudiobooks, and 4,394 zines were checked out by our electronically savvy patrons in FY13.

13,482 children, 2,202 teens and 1,411 adults attended Library programs, including storytimes 5 days a week, book discussion groups and other special programs in FY13.

121,205 reference transactions were recorded by reference, information and Special Collections staff in FY 13.

82,509 public computer sessions in FY13.

And, while we’re counting, we also have two more branches!

Fairmount Library, opened 2006

Fairmount Street Library, opened 2006

Eastern Avenue Library, opened 2010

Eastern Avenue Library, opened 2010

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The wedding of Helen Kohn and David Gottlieb

Helen Josephine Kohn of Davenport married David Sticker Gottlieb of Tiffin, Ohio, on April 7, 1913, at the Outing Club in Davenport.

According to the next day’s Davenport Democrat, the wedding was lovely.

The Outing Club Ballroom was decorated with roses, streamers and ribbons, and the couple was united in the Wicker Parlor underneath a traditional huppah by Rabbi A.L. Weinstein of Temple Emmanuel, to music from the Criterion Orchestra.

Helen Josephine Kohn

“The bride was dressed in a wedding gown of white chameuse, made entraine and draped in white chantilly lace.  Her veil, which had been worn by her mother at her wedding, was fashioned into a Juliet cap, caught with orange blossoms, while her only ornament was a diamond la valliere, the gift of the groom.  The bridal bouquet was in nuptial arrangement of lillies of the valley with true love-knots and bows.”

The paper went on to note that the ring bearer, a very young Philip David Adler,* carried the rings in a white tulip.

Afterwards, the orchestra played at the informal reception as the wedding party and fifty-five of their immediate relatives had a wedding supper in the Outing Club’s dining hall.

After a week-long wedding trip, the newly married couple set up household in Ohio, where the groom ran a manufacturing plant.


*Philip D. Adler would later become a journalist and a European news correspondent, before stepping into his father’s shoes as the president of the Iowa-based Lee Enterprises newspaper syndicate, which would eventually purchase the newspaper in which this marriage announcement was published.  We’re almost certain that has nothing to do with the remembered ignominy of the tulip.



“Bride at Pretty Wedding at Outing Club.” Davenport Democrat, 8April1913, p.8.

Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive

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First, Do No Harm – then come see the State of Scott!

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center is pleased to offer two programs on Saturday, April 5th:

First Do No Harm: Caring for your Family Documents  will be held at the Main Library (321 Main Street) from 9:30 – 11:30.

Learn how to carefully preserve your documents without breaking the bank at this event celebrating preservation month!   You will be provided with the supplies to preserve on-site a document no larger than 11×17 to take home.

Discover what not to do, how to store your documents and more about caring for paper and photographs.

Registration is required, so please contact the library at 563-326-7902.

 We will also be holding a film screening of The State of Scott: A View of Davenport in 1948 at our Eastern Avenue branch from 2 – 4pm.

The Free and Independent State of Scott celebrations were a series of parades, shows,  fireworks, beauty contests, and other activities that showcased the resiliency—and creativity—of our local post-World War II community.

Original raw footage, of these events was put together by the Davenport Public Library and the Open Cities Film Society into a short feature, which includes memories from local newspaperman Bill Wundram.

No registration is required for this event.

We hope to see you here!

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Davenporters of Note: Alvino Peña

Alvino H. Peña was born May 14, 1939, in Silvis, Illinois.  He died on March 20, 2014, in Davenport, Iowa.

In between those dates, he lived a lot of life and helped a lot of kids.

The father of ten children, Mr. Peña, who had grown up with very little himself, was concerned with the large number of inner-city youth he saw in the Quad-Cities who had no direction, no resources, and no future.

Besides working at International Harvester, Mr. Peña was also in the Army National Guard, where he’d learned how to box.  In 1968, he put his worries about his community’s children and his love of the sport together, and opened the Davenport Boxing Club at 609 West 4th Street.    Working two jobs to support the club, which was free to all, he taught boxing to kids who needed discipline, focus, and a place to belong.

The Club earned its official non-profit tax-exempt status in the mid-eighties, but it had already started to produce results.  Hundreds of teenagers had already responded to Mr. Peña’s combination of tough expectations and warm-hearted support—and thousands more would.

Many of them became pretty good boxers, too.

The popular Annual Boxing Show, hosted by the Club, showcased the young athletes over the years, and several also won boxing titles on the local, state, national, and even international levels.  Some of the Club’s regulars, like Michael Nunn and Antwun Echols, have gone professional.

Mr. Peña wasn’t just coaching at the Club, either—he worked with several U.S. amateur teams and many boxers who went on to become household names:  Oscar De La Hoya and Evander Holyfield among them.

He was recognized many times as the state and regional Golden Gloves coach of the year, and in 1999, was inducted into the Golden Gloves Hall of Fame for coaching.  According to newspaper interviews, he didn’t want to travel out of state to pick up the award, because that would mean closing the gym.

In 2003, Mr. Peña was inducted into the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame, but though he didn’t have to travel far to pick up that award, he still didn’t want to bother.  He wasn’t doing it for the fame, and he sure wasn’t doing it for the money.

He was in it for the kids.




Alvino H. Peña, Sr.Quad-City Times, 23March2014

Cox, Monte. “Q-C kids’ self-respect . . . for less than $6,000.” Quad-City Times, 20Feb1995, p.6

DeVrieze, Craig. “’Coaches are heroes’: Feurbach: Frese, Peña are good role models to follow.” Quad-City Times, 8May2003, B1.

Doxie, Don. “Like it or not, Peña will get his due: Hall of Fame awaits Q-C legend.” Quad-City Times, 3May1998, p.1.

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When Irish Eyes are reading the newspapers . . .

It’s difficult to do any research about Davenport’s earliest history without finding at least one Germanic surname along the way. And once the “forty-eighters” came here to find a little peace from the ongoing wars in their part of Europe and started naming things and holding festivals, outsiders would be forgiven for thinking that our area was a little transplanted piece of Schleswig-Holstein.

But Germans weren’t the only group to settle here, and if one knows where to look, there’s no denying that there’s quite a bit of Ireland here, as well.

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, we decided to search our Access Newspaper Archive Database to find out how Davenport celebrated this most Irish of holidays over the last 155 years.

In 1859, the celebrations mostly consisted of respectful speeches and toasts.   The one thrown by the Sarsfield Guards at LeClaire Hall, provided music by a men’s chorus and a small band.  Veterans and current members of the military were “respectfully requested” to wear their uniforms.

Gazette 15Mar1859 p1

Davenport Gazette, March 15, 1859, p.1

In 1870, the Davenport Gazette reported on March 18th that the “procession” that had been planned by the St, Patrick’s Society of Rock Island, the St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society of Davenport, and the Hibernian Benevolent Society,  had included 700 participants.

A mass at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church at the corner of Main and Fourth Streets was held, followed by dancing at Lohrman Hall—which was scarcely big enough to hold the hundreds who attended—and a late feast.

Gazette March 19, 1970, p.4

Gazette March 19, 1970, p.4

In 1922, a parade was reported, but more attention was paid to the fancy dress parties—all the rage in the roaring twenties—held in honor of St. Patrick’s Day by Davenport’s high society.

Mr. and Mrs. McGinnis hosted an “old fashioned social” ball for their friends, who were asked to dress in Civil War era hoop skirts, shawls, and frock coats.

According to the article, some of the fashions were genuine, like the 100-year old, black crepe bonnet and veil worn by Mrs. Theo Zingg.

Davenport Democrat March 19, 1922, p.17

Davenport Democrat March 19, 1922, p.17

By 1949, the St. Patrick’s Day parade was still being held,  according to the papers, and the after-parties were beginning to resemble the ones held in Davenport last weekend—though the days of sixty-cent cover charges (or, sadly, even $6.00, in 2012 dollars) are long gone.

Democrat March 16, 1949, p.19

Democrat March 16, 1949, p.19

The newspapers doesn’t mention whether green beer was served at any of these past celebrations. . . but even on a day that has and will always belong to the Irish, we highly doubt the Germans would have stood for it!


The Access Newspaper Archive Database is accessible on any of our public workstations at any of our three branches.  The search engine in comprehensive and full scans of historical newspapers throughout the country, some as far back at the 1700s, can be printed or downloaded.  Come on in and check it out!

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The Small, Pretty Wedding of Jennie E. Grieve, Schoolteacher of this City

On March 14, 1901, Jennie E.  Grieve, former schoolteacher of the brand new School #11 (later renamed Taylor Elementary) married Alexander Shadbolt, the owner of a stock farm outside of Brooklyn, Iowa, in Poweshiek County.

Aren’t they a lovely couple?

Shadbolt Couple

Held at the home of the bride’s parents on 719 East Fourteenth Street, the wedding was a small affair, but, the Davenport Daily Leader reported, a very pretty one.   There was a small dinner afterward for family and a few close friends.

But a small, intimate wedding didn’t mean the bride didn’t wear a beautiful dress.  Look at those gorgeous ruffles:

Shadbolt Bride

There was no veil mentioned in the newspaper account—which also lacked details about the silk gauze dress, much to our disappointment—but the bride did have her photograph taken with her glasses on, as befits a former schoolteacher.

They’re barely visible in the image, but they’re there!

Shadbolt Detail

The bride had resigned her teaching position a month before her wedding—teachers were not allowed to be married in the Davenport School System at that time—and the couple left a week after the wedding to live in Brooklyn, Iowa.


Sources Used:

“Shadbolt-Grieve.” Davenport Daily Leader, March 17, 1901, p.9

The old and the new!! : elementary schools in use prior to 1940 and those after the new ones opened in the fall of 1940  [Davenport, Iowa : Davenport Schools Museum, 199-?]

 Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive


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Living Memory History: The Winter of 2013-2014

Duck Creek Park, 1934 -- not a record breaker, but still cold!

Duck Creek Park, 1934 — not a record breaker, but still cold!

We decided to blog this week about the weather because after a winter of freezing cold and permanent snow . . .  it’s still cold and still snowing.

And while that makes us a little sad, we thought it was a wonderful excuse to review weather stats to see how the winter of 2013-2014 compares to years past.

It turns out it’s doing very well, with several records broken. The National Weather Service identifies winter as running from December 1 to February 28. During that time, cold and snow dominated our weather forecast.

December of 2013 didn’t break any records with its mean temperature of 20.5 degrees Fahrenheit and 13.8 inches of snow, as recorded in Moline, Illinois.* December of 2000 still holds the records for coldest (13.1°F) and snowiest (32 inches).

January of 2014 faced a challenge, as in that month many low daily temperature and snow records were set in the Blizzard of 1979. It seems that January of 1979 still stands as the coldest (6.3°F) and snowiest (26.7 inches) recorded. January of 2014 gave it a good try but only produced a mean average of 14.8°F and 17.7 inches of snow. No records broken there!

Then came February 2014.  February 10th tied for a record low of -16°F with the same day in 1899.  February 11th had a new record low of -22°F, which surpassed the previous record of -15°F set in 1885.

These chilly temperatures helped February of 2014 tie for the 5th spot in the Top Ten Coldest Februarys. The mean temperature in Moline was 14.6°F, which is shared by February of 1905.

Snow is what really took over in February of 2014: 22.3 inches of it fell in Moline that month. This moved February 2014 into the #1 spot for Snowiest February on record for that city.  Both 2011 and 1994 had previously held first place, with 20.7 inches, and now hold second.

As we move into March the official records for the winter (December, January, February) can be studied. How did the winter of 2013-2014 fair in light of some stiff (and cold) competition?

The coldest winter on record (since 1872 of course) in Moline, Illinois is still held by the winter of 1978-1979 with an average mean temperature of 14.1°F. The winter of 2013-2014 came in with a mean temperature of 16.6°F, landing it in sixth place in the Top Ten.

However, 2013-2014 took over the Snowiest Winter category, with 53.8 inches, which is the official total recorded (today’s delightful snowfall will fall under Spring record keeping from March 1st – May 31st). Stunningly, the winter of 1978-1979 fell to second with 52.9 inches,** though as some of us recall, about half of that fell within a forty-eight hour period.

Now we focus on Spring with the start of March. Is it coming in like a lion or a lamb?

A record cold high was set on March 2, 2014 of 7°F with a record cold low of -12°F, set on March 3rd.  Hear that roar?

We certainly hope the old weather lore of March coming in like a lion or lamb and leaving the opposite way holds true.

The lamb of warm spring temperatures is looking pretty good right now!


*While records are also maintained in Davenport, IA, official record keeping in this city did not begin until the 1980s. Record keeping began in Moline, IL in 1872.

**Some may argue that 1978-1979 had more snow as November 1978 had 7.1 inches fall compared to only 0.8 inches in 2013. As the National Weather Service places November in the Autumn category, it was not included.

(posted by Amy D.)

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Chronicling America: The Bystander

It’s no secret that newspapers can be a wonderful resource for history and genealogy, but many early newspapers—ones from smaller communities or with shorter or less frequent publishing runs— have remained secrets, or at least inaccessible, to the average researcher.

Chronicling AmericaThe Library of Congress knows this, and launched their Chronicling America website to promote and provide access to various digitized historical newspapers—including those from Iowa.

Currently, issues from five Iowa newspapers are available online through Chronicling America, including issues from 1894 to 1922 of The Iowa State Bystander (later, simply The Bystander), a newspaper established by the African-American community in Iowa.


This is very exciting news for us—pun intended!—as The Bystander  often included articles from Davenport’s local African-American community, which was all too frequently ignored or given short shrift by our local newspapers.

Bystander 6Jun1913

Iowa State Bystander, June 6, 1913

Personal news items as well as articles illustrating the struggles for equality and Civil Rights in Iowa and throughout the country can be viewed online at Chronicling America.

Go check it out!

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Davenporters of Note: Charles William Toney

Charles William Toney was born in LaCrosse, Wisconsin on August 23rd, 1913 to Wilber and Stella Toney.

He attended Clinton High School in Clinton, Iowa, and was on the swim team.  This led to his first fight for Civil Rights when, at the age of 14, he was denied entry in Clinton’s new Municipal Pool . He went up to the City Attorney to ask him why he was being denied his rights as a resident, and was told that they didn’t want him swimming in the same pool as white girls.

Mr. Toney graduated in 1930, and studied Chemistry at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, for a year, but the Great Depression made money tight and school was expensive.  He moved to Hell’s Half-Acre in St. Louis and found work as an elevator operator.

Mr. Toney moved back to Davenport in 1936, finding employment with John Deere Malleable Works. At the start of World War II, the company sent him for further training and he became the first welder of color in the states of Iowa and Illinois.  He worked as a welder for 20 years.

He married Ann Palmer on December 17, 1943 in Davenport.  They lived at 1010 Western Avenue, where they had an in-ground pool and invited black children in the community to use it to learn to swim, as they, too, were not allowed to use the Municipal Natatorium.

The summer before they were married, Charles and Ann stopped by a local soda fountain, The Colonial Fountain, after a movie date. They sat in a booth and then moved to the counter, but the waitress refused to serve them. Toney filed a complaint under Iowa’s 1884 Civil Rights Act Public Accommodation Law. On August 8th, 1945, a jury found Dorothy Baxter guilty of infringing on Toney’s Civil Rights. This was the first civil rights suit ever won in Iowa.  According to a survey by the League for Social Justice, called “Citizen 2nd Class,” The Colonial Fountain was the only restaurant to serve blacks in the early 1950s.

Mr. and Mrs. Toney published the Davenport Sepia Record, a local magazine spotlighting black people in the community and the country.   The goal of the magazine, which ran for two years, was to promote better racial conditions in the Quad Cities.

Mr. Toney also ran a barber/beauty shop on the SW corner of 11th and Ripley, one of the first Black businesses in Davenport.  At the time, it was the only barbershop in Davenport that would serve blacks.

“Some of us brought about a change from the segregation and discrimination that was practiced by the good old boys. People are soon forgotten for the good they did back in those days. What we did was not a popular thing to do.”

Mr. Toney didn’t limit his fight for Civil Rights to a local scale.  He served as president of the Davenport NAACP, president of the Catholic Inter-racial Council, served on the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, Chair of the Human Rights & Employment Practices Committee of the Iowa Association of Business & Industry, and others.   He also worked for a time as a Washington Lobbyist for a federal employment practices act under A. Phillip Randolph, the president of the Sleeping Car Porters Union.

He presented the Pacem In Terris Awardto Martin Luther King Jr., in 1965 in Davenport.

In 1964, Mr. Toney transferred to the main division of Deere & Company, and four years later, he was promoted to the Manager of Minority Relations. In 1972, he challenged Deere’s management with a request to compete for an executive position and became the first black executive with Deere & Co., serving as Director of Affirmative Action.

While Director, he initiated one of the first voluntary affirmative action plans in the nation, and oversaw corporate wide recruiting efforts at historically Black Colleges.

“As far as major corporations like Deere are concerned, we will continue to have affirmative action and equal opportunity because it’s morally right and doggone good business to use all the available talent a community has to offer.”

Mr. Toney received an Honorary Doctorate Degree for Public Service from St. Ambrose University in 1975 and retired from Deere & Co. in 1983, after 42 years of service.

Charles William Toney died at the age of 96, on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 in Moline, Illinois.

His barbershop was recreated for a civil rights exhibit at the Putnam Museum in January 2010 and he was inducted into the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame in August of that year. Part of that exhibit is now on display at the Main Street Library through April 3rd.


Davenport Civil Rights exhibit on display at the Main Street Library

Davenport Civil Rights exhibit on display at the Main Street Library

Charles Toney

Charles Toney

(posted by Cristina)


Works Cited

“Charles Toney (obituary).” Quad-City Times 01 November 2009: p. C7.

“Davenport Civil Rights History Walking Tour.” Davenport: Davenport Civil Rights Commission, 2011.

“Fined for Refusing Negro Ice Cream.” Waterloo Daily Courier 9 August 1945: p. 7.

Geyer, Thomas. “Rights pioneer earns honor – African-American hall to induct former Deere executive.” Quad-City Times 28 June 2010: p. 1B.

McGlynn, Ann. “Civil rights pioneer Charles Toney dies – Former welder challenged ice cream shop refusal in 1943.” Quad-City Times 29 October 2009: p. 1A.

Silag, Bill, ed. Outside In: African American History in Iowa. Des Moines: State Historical Society of Iowa, 2001.

Smith, Robert Copeland. “Robert Copeland Smith: Q-C had its heroes in the fight for justice: Black history is a work in progress.” Quad-City Times 2 February 2000: p. 6A.

Van Hook, Beverly. “Looking on the bright side: Toney says blacks can too make it here.” Quad-City Times 15 November 1981: pp. 1E, 4E.

Wellner, Brian. “NEW EXHIBIT OPENS AT PUTNAM MUSEUM – Barbershops and the KKK – Collection traces civil rights movement.” Quad-City Times 16 January 2010: p. 1A.

Wundram, Bill. “Citizen, 2nd class 40 years later…” Quad-City Times 17 October 1993: 2A.

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