© 2023 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Sepia Record

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It was not Charles Toney's fault that, in the long march toward civil rights, he only took one or two small steps. They were tentative, because, in 1944, they were among the first steps in Davenport, Iowa.

That year, Toney and his wife Ann decided to publish a magazine about black Quad-Citians, hoping that education would melt away much of the prejudice they found. "Our aim is to show that Negroes are not different in any respect from the average American," said the first issue of Sepia Record in 1944, a year before Ebony magazine began publication.

The Toneys printed five thousand copies of the first issue, and a second issue in 1945, before the magazine, unable to get advertising, folded. "We were in the wrong place at the right time," said Mr. Toney. Davenport, in 1944, was the wrong place. In the first issue, Toney had written that "every soldier, sailor, or marine pictured here will be shot at by the enemy with a bullet that isn't trademarked black or white."

Back in Davenport, those same soldiers found bullets that were more selective. Of four veterans' organizations, only one accepted Blacks. Davenport had no Black teachers, office workers, firemen or policemen. Housing was available for Blacks only in a few poorer neighborhoods. Of 79 doctors in Davenport, 14 refused Black patients outright and many others treated them only after hours. Thirty-six of the 54 dentists refused Black patients.

Many public places were also closed to Blacks. They had difficulty being seated and served at most restaurants, and only one of eight Davenport hotels offered them rooms. They were welcome at only one of the city's seven bowling alleys.

Did Davenport's pioneering Black magazine make a difference? Did its penlight beams penetrate the fog of ignorance before the batteries ran down? Before you answer, go down to any public or school library in the Rock Island area, and try to find a single copy of the Sepia Record. For some folks it apparently wasn't worth preserving.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.