The Sepia Record, 1944

With thanks to our friends at the Friends of MLK, [1] the RSSC Center has recently acquired a copy of a publication that gives new insight into an understanding of the WWII-era Black community in the Quad-Cities. To celebrate Black History Month 2023, we take a closer look at the African-American Davenporters featured in the 1944 Sepia Record.

Readers of this blog and students of local Black history will certainly be familiar with the name  Charles Toney. [2] We may count his role as Editor-In-Chief nof the Sepia Record among his many accomplishments as a civil rights crusader.

Sepia Record (Davenport, Iowa), Vol. 1, No. 1 (1944), page 4.

Toney aimed for the magazine to be “…the medium that would bridge the gulf of racial misunderstanding…to show that Negroes are not different in any respect from the average American.” Its purpose was “…to educate this group [of prejudiced persons in the Quad-City area] into knowing that the Negro is basically like any other nationality.”

One way in which the Sepia Record acheived its aim and purpose was to lift up the young men currently serving their country in the Second World War, including these Davenporters…

…and two former Davenport High School star athletes, Calvin Mason (track) and Orrie Pitts (football).

Celebrated Davenport musician and Navy man Warren Bracken was the leader of the Section Bass Swing Band.

Also featured was Tech. Sgt. Le Roy Smith, Jr., recipent of the mechanic, driver and tractor medal as well as the Soldier’s medal (for saving fellow soldiers from drowning). The Sepia Record noted that his father, Sgt. Le Roy Smith, Sr., had served in the First World War.

Others for whom patriotic service was a family affair included Dr. and Mrs. Charles Bates. Their sons Charles Jr., Stanley, Robert, and Ralph were all members of the armed forces.

The Bates were featured in the Sepia Record as “4-Star Parents” along with Marie Nicholson, Her sons Donald, Earl, Frank and Edwin also served.

Those laboring on the home front were not neglected by the magazine: Rock Island Arsenal defense workers Harold Toney and Simon Roberts were included; the latter, Principal Clerk in the Mail and Record Section, was celebrated for his 25 years on the job. Also shown was steelworker Charles Coffey.

And William Crump, doorman at the Hotel Blackhawk, supported the war in a different way: he starred in a short Treasury Department film encouraging the purchase of war bonds and stamps.

War service is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to what can be discovered about African Americans in Davenport from the 1944 the Sepia Record. Watch this space for more! And we’d love to hear from anyone who might have a copy of the 1945 issue!


(posted by Katie)

[1] Ryan Saddler, FOMLK Board Chair and CEO, was kind enough to provide us with a copy of volume 1, number 1 (1944).

[2] The Charles and Ann Toney papers are held by the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids.

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