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Grant to help add rooming house, dormitory with ties to Iowa’s civil rights history to national register


Photo of the Federation Home from a 1929 pamphlet in the University of Iowa Digital Collection.
Photo of the Federation Home from a 1929 pamphlet in the University of Iowa Digital Collection. — image via the University of Iowa Libraries Iowa Women’s Archives

The Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission has been awarded a $16,000 Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service to help fund National Register of Historic Places nominations for the Tate Arms rooming house and the Iowa Federation Home Dormitory in Iowa City, according to a press release published Sunday.

Both buildings housed black University of Iowa students during a time when the students were, by unwritten rule, not allowed to live on campus, giving the structures significant ties to the history of African American civil rights in Iowa City.

“Iowa City does not have a lot of official historical sites associated with the African American community,” Iowa City Senior Planner Bob Miklo said. “There’s only one in Iowa City, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was first established in 1868. Adding these two to the national register would complement that existing listing and that part of our history.”

The University of Iowa accepted black students starting in the 1870s, but when the university opened up student dormitories in 1914 and 1920, the new dorms were open only to white students. The university dormitories — along with those at Iowa State and Drake — first officially desegregated in 1946.

Tate Arms -- photo via the City of Iowa City
Tate Arms — via the City of Iowa City

The Tate Arms building (914 S Dubuque St), run by Junious “Bud” and Elizabeth “Bettye” Crawford Tate, first started housing male African American students around 1939 and continued to do so until the mid-1960s. The couple had previously housed students in their home on Prentiss Street in 1938 before moving to the Dubuque Street home. Bettye Tate had ties to the university, working in the cardiovascular laboratory for over two decades, while Bud Tate ran a janitorial service for downtown businesses. Bettye Tate is also the namesake for Elizabeth Tate High School in Iowa City.

The Federation Home (942 Iowa Ave), first purchased in 1919 by the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, served as a dormitory for African American women until 1950. Although it had the approval of the university, the club raised the money on its own to purchase the home, according to an article by Anne Beiser Allen published in 2002 in Iowa Heritage Illustrated. The home was renamed in honor of Sue M. Brown after her death in 1941. Brown was a prominent activist in the African American community, who chaired the Federation Home board until her death.

According to an article by Richard M. Breaux published in the Journal of African American History, Elizabeth Catlett, the printmaker and sculptor, was among the many women who stayed in the Federation Home. Catlett is the namesake for the new dormitory scheduled to open this fall.

Federation Home -- photo via the City of Iowa City
Iowa Federation Home — via the City of Iowa City

The current plan for the two buildings involves creating the nominations to place the buildings on the national register list, as well as developing educational materials to be used on a plaque for each building and for pamphlets and web-based materials to spread the knowledge about the role the buildings played in Iowa City history, Miklo said.

“The listing would highlight the importance of using these buildings to fight discrimination and advance the cause of education in the African American community,” he said. “It shows the persistence of the African American community to help students find decent housing.”

Listing the buildings, which are privately owned, on the national register could help open up funding sources for work or repair to the buildings in the future, including the possibility of tax credits for the owners. Miklo said city officials hope to have the buildings listed on the national register by the end of the year.


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