August is National Black Business Month, and this week’s blog celebrates Black-owned businesses active in Davenport at three different points in its history.
The earliest African American proprietor in the city was likely barber James Hanover Warwick. His freedom purchased by his “Aunt Matilda,” Warwick began learning his trade as a teenage apprentice in Richmond, Virginia, later gaining experience as a personal servant to a tobacco agent (who took him to Paris and Washington, D.C.) and to the father of actor Edwin Booth, as well as in service to travelers on Ohio and Mississippi River steamboats. He came to Davenport from St. Louis with his wife Beryl in 1848, and opened his own shop on Brady Street in 1856. As the advertisements below attest, Warwick was a barber and more: a hairdresser, wigmaker, and ”perfumer” for men and women alike. His success was widely recognized, the Davenport Sunday Democrat for February 17, 1895 stating “…there are but few men in Davenport who have not been in his chair” upon news of his death.
The “List of Early African-American Business and Professional Women in Davenport, Iowa” for the years 1890-1920 assembled by local historian Craig Klein includes frequent mention of Mrs. Rosa Corbin in the Iowa Bystander. Keeper of a rooming house, Mrs. Corbin was described by the Des Moines-based African American newspaper as “a hustler” who would “soon be in moderate circumstances at the rate she is now working” in August 1906. The following summer, the Bystander noted “Mrs. Rosa A. Corbin is a very successful woman. She owns some valuable property.” Presumably, this referred to the Corbin Flats, five rooms at 935 Gaines Street; Mrs. Corbin lived at 936. Her name was among those of several other women and men (her then-husband Alexander was president) establishing the Negro Business Local League of Davenport, Iowa in September 1901. (Davenport Republican, September 15, 1901, p. 5.)
In 1970, the Times-Democrat ran a series of articles on Black-owned businesses in Davenport, beginning with a feature on Earl Maupins, proprietor of Wax Lights, a candle shop at 317 Harrison Street.
In the April 5th issue, Charles Orman featured Greco Enterprises, Inc. founder George Greer in “From Test Tube to Mop.” Greer had just made the move from working for the Alter Company as analytical chemist to managing his own office cleaning business.
Part III of the Times-Democrat‘s series “Davenport’s Blacks Speak Out in 1972” focused on Black business owners and their struggles to secure financing in the area at that time. Published on August 29, 1972, the article featured Black owners of businesses including a clothing store, a barbershop, a coin laundry, a record shop, and a real estate and insurance agency.
Flynn Griffin owned a trucking and hauling firm. Mr. Griffin started his business with money he earned from prize fighting. His business expanded from 3 trucks in 1952 to nearly a dozen in 1972. He said he still had trouble landing contracts, even when he was the low bidder on the job. He said “I don’t have any trouble landing contracts for chain stores operated outside Davenport. But, whenever there are local business people involved, I’ve had trouble.” Griffin’s Trucking is listed in the Davenport City Directories through 1989.
Alfred and Rufus Garrett started Garrett Realty, an insurance and real estate agency in 1961 and also owned Garrett Brothers Excavating, a landscaping business established by their father in the mid-1920s. Alfred said “When I came back from California in 1946 I tried to buy a house. No one would sell to black people. I decided then I would someday establish a black real estate agency.” The brothers remained in business for 4 decades. Alfred died in 1998 and Rufus in 2011.
William Dean owned a 25-unit coin laundry at 530 Farnam. Mr. Dean tried to get a $25,000 loan from local banks but was told “Black people can’t borrow that kind of money.” He hired an attorney to interpret the regulations and contracts. After a year and a half of trips and letters to and from the Small Business Association in Des Moines, he finally got approved for an SBA loan. Dean’s Laundromat is listed in the Davenport City Directories through 1973.
L.A. Broyles operated Broyles’ Barbershop at 1226 1/2 Harrison Street. Mr. Broyles tried to borrow $1,000 to buy chairs and barbering equipment but was told he needed at least 60% collateral. “I had a skill, but I couldn’t even buy the tools to work in my trade.” He worked full time at the Rock Island Arsenal and would work at his barbershop in the evenings. L.A. Broyles closed his shop in 2004.
William and Margaret Willingham owned the Psychedelic Record Shak at 1522 Harrison Street while both worked full time jobs. Margaret worked as an aide at Kirkwood Convalescent Home and William worked as a press operator at French & Hecht. They would take turns staffing the store during the day. They said they opened the shop in 1971 because “there was no place for backs to get soul music.” The Psychedelic Record Shak is listed in the Davenport City Directories through 1973. Mr. Willingham died in 2004.
Sylvester “Pete” Mitchell owned Lee’s Clothing and Jewelry at 312 W 2nd Street. He bout the business from Leonard Stone after working there for 2 years, starting out in 1969 doing alterations. He took business courses at a local college and became the store manager in 1970. Then he applied for a loan and bought one-half interest in the business. He bought the business out right when Stone retired. Mr. Mitchell and Lee’s Clothing and Jewelry are listed in the Davenport City Directories thought 1977.
And finally, we remember Davenport businessman Clyde Mayfield, who passed away last week on August 5th. He started Greatest Grains with his wife Julie Martens in 1980, shortly before graduating from St. Ambrose College. Mr. Mayfield retired from the Davenport Fire Department in 2001. He was a civil rights leader and served in the Davenport School Board for many years. Greatest Grains closed last year after almost 40 years in business.
(posted by Katie and Cristina)