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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Ernest Rodriguez papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1910-2007
Creator: Rodriguez, Ernest (1928-)
Extent: 5.00 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0784
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Davenport civil rights and Chicano activist, born in the predominantly Mexican settlement of Holy City in Bettendorf, Iowa.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs: In Box 1.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers were donated by Ernest Rodriguez (donor no. 995) in 2005 and subsequent years.

Preferred Citation: Ernest Rodriguez papers, Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Civil rights activist Ernest Rodriguez was born in 1928 in the predominantly Mexican settlement in Bettendorf known as Holy City. His father, Norberto Rodriguez, was born in Arandas in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, and migrated to the United States in 1910 at the age of seventeen. He met Muggie Belva Adams, an African American woman from Alabama, in the coal mining community of Lovilia, Iowa. They married in 1919 and stayed in south central Iowa, living in coal mining towns such as Albia, Centerville, and Buxton. In 1923, they moved to Bettendorf, Iowa, after Norberto Rodriguez secured work in the foundry of the Bettendorf Company. The Rodriguez family lived in Holy City's boxcars and "flats" from 1924 to 1937 when they moved to southwest Davenport. Growing up with nine siblings, Rodriguez remembers "onion topping" in the nearby fields of Pleasant Valley, his mother feeding hobos during the Great Depression, as well as discriminatory practices his family encountered when they moved "uptown."

Ernest Rodriguez graduated from Davenport High School (now known as Davenport Central High School) in 1946 and served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953 when he was stationed in El Paso, Texas. In 1955, he married Juanita Serrano Segobiano, who pursued the path of a homemaker and chief caretaker of their nine children: Philip, Rebecca, Carlos, Christine, Maria, Yolanda, Ernest Jr., Alfonso, and Martin.

Ernest Rodriguez was a member of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen (AMCBW) Local 431 at the Oscar Mayer packinghouse in Davenport where he worked from 1959 to 1970. This period coincides with his increasing political and civil rights activism and his involvement as a founding member of local chapters of two Mexican American organizations - the American GI Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC Council 10). Through these organizations, Rodriguez worked with other Davenport activists to push forward a strong civil rights agenda beginning in the late 1950s and continuing throughout his life. During the 1960s, he served on the Davenport Human Relations Commission where he successfully targeted the need for a paid, full-time director to the commission. He stressed the importance of improving police-community relations as well as the need for the Davenport Community School District to hire more minority teachers, including Spanish-speaking teachers. In the late 1960s, Rodriguez served as co-chair of the Quad City Grape Boycott Committee to support the Delano, California, grape strike led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
In 1970, as director of the newly created Area Board for Migrants, Rodriguez was instrumental in lobbying the state legislature for the creation of the Spanish Speaking Peoples Commission - the forerunner of the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs. He advocated for a better understanding of Latino rights in Iowa and across the country. During the 1960s and 1970s, he initiated two bilingual newspapers (El Reportero and Columnas) as well as educational radio and television programs that reached a wide audience. Rodriguez worked as an Equal Employment Officer at the Rock Island Arsenal from 1975 until his retirement in 1990 after which he continued to serve on civil rights organizations including the Illinois Migrant Council and the Davenport Civil Rights Commission.

The Ernest Rodriguez papers date from 1910 to 2007 and measure 5 linear inches. The papers were donated as part of the Mujeres Latinas Project, a project of the Iowa Women's Archives to preserve family and community history of Iowa Latinas and Latinos. The papers are organized in four series: Biographical information(1910-2005); Newspaper clippings (1968-2006); Organizations (1959-2007); Writings and publications (1968-2007).

The Biographical information series (1910-2005) includes a copy of Rodriguez's birth certificate, which states his birth as "Box Car #8" in Bettendorf, Iowa. The boxcars were located in the predominately Mexican settlement known as Holy City on the Bettendorf riverfront south of State Street and extending east of the former Bettendorf Shops for approximately one mile. A "tank farm" now occupies this area. The series includes his father's 1910 immigration card and later correspondence with immigration and naturalization officials.  A computer-generated map of Holy City is included as well as the history of the Macias brothers, who came to Holy City during the First World War.

The Newspaper clippings series (1968-2006) includes articles about Rodriguez's role in civil rights work in the Quad Cities area from the implementation of police seminars in the 1960s to his work as the Rock Island Arsenal's first Spanish-speaking program coordinator.  Later clippings include reports of awards for his civil rights activism and an article about the death of his nephew, Marine Sgt. Norbert Gene Simmons in Da Nang, South Vietnam in 1966.

The Organizations series (1959-2007) reflects the wide range of community and social justice activities undertaken by Ernest Rodriguez. The LULAC Council 10 materials consist of histories and anniversary celebrations, plus a Latino guide to the Quad Cities. Included is information about the Chicano Educational Productions, a non-profit organization directed by Rodriguez, which broadcast a bilingual educational television program in the 1970s.

The Writings and publications series (1968-2007) contains Rodriguez's presentations, speeches, letters to the editor, radio scripts, histories and memoirs. Topics in the radio broadcast scripts for "Viewpoint" range from migrant worker rights in Iowa to the1976 passage of the bill to establish the Iowa Spanish Speaking Peoples Commission - signed into law by Iowa Governor Robert Ray. The speeches were written to address groups ranging from University of Iowa law students to Mexican Americans in Fort Madison, Iowa. The writings in "Impressions" have been kept in their original binder; they include papers he wrote on civil rights in the Midwest and the Southwest, the emergence of the Chicano movement, and the role of the Catholic Church in promoting social justice, as well as family histories.
Estefania Joyce Rodriguez papers (Ernest Rodriguez's sister)
LULAC Council #10 records
Muscatine Migrant Committee records
Mujeres Latinas Oral Histories
Juanita & Ernest Rodriguez, 2005
Ernest Rodriguez, 2006
Estefania Rodriguez , 2005

Browse by Series:

  • Box 1:
  • Ernest Rodriguez - 1910-2007
  • Norberto Rodriguez - 1910-1977
  • Rodriguez family history - 1991-2005
  • Box 1:
  • General - 1968-1975
  • General - 1995-2006
  • Box 1:
  • American G.I. Forum - 1963-1969
  • Chicano Educational Productions - 1975
  • Hero Memorial Committee of Silvis - 1968-2001
  • International Association of Machinists, District Lodge 102 - 1971-1975
  • LULAC Council 10 - 1959-2007
  • Scott County Young Democrats - 1959
  • Spanish-speaking peoples organizations - 1969-1976
  • Box 1:
  • General - 1968
  • Columnas - 1970-1971
  • Speeches - 1976-2006
  • "Viewpoint" radio broadcast scripts - 1973-1977
  • "Impressions" binder - 1960s-1980s