The Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission has been awarded a Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service. This grant will be used to help fund the nomination of Iowa City’s Tate Arms rooming house and the Iowa Federation Home Dormitory, to the National Register of Historic Places. The $16,000 grant will also be used to produce educational material to promote their significance in the history of civil rights in Iowa.
According to Historic Preservation Planner Jessica Bristow, the Federation Home and Tate Arms buildings are significant in the history of African American civil rights in Iowa City, as both serve as landmarks associated with the struggle for housing equality for Black students at the University of Iowa.
Although African American students were admitted to the University of Iowa as early as the 1870s, they were barred from living in the student dormitories that the university began constructing in the 1910s for its growing undergraduate student population. A women’s dormitory was completed in 1914 and a men’s dormitory in 1920. By unwritten policy, the two dormitories were limited to White students.
In order to address the need for African American housing, the Tate Arms building, located at 914 S. Dubuque Street, was established around 1940 and served as a private rooming house for male African American students until the mid-1960s. It was named the Tate Arms after its owners, Junious (“Bud”) and Elizabeth (“Bettye”) Crawford Tate. Unlike the Federation Home, Tate Arms was owned by private individuals with no organizational backing. Bud Tate operated a janitorial service for downtown businesses. Bettye Tate worked in the University of Iowa’s cardiovascular laboratory for 22 years, retiring as supervisor in 1976. Elizabeth Tate High School in Iowa City was later named for her.
In 1920, The Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs opened the Federation Home, located at 942 Iowa Avenue, to serve as a dormitory for African American women studying at the University. This dormitory operated until 1950, four years after the official desegregation of the University’s dormitories.
The Federation Home was eventually renamed after Sue M. Brown, honoring the woman who had chaired the Federation Home board until her death in 1941. The dormitory was, according to historian Richard Breaux, “one of a few ‘women’s dormitories’ in the nation owned and operated by a formally organized group of African American women.” In addition, the establishment and ongoing operation of the home was important in providing “mostly middle-class African American women students with the organizational, intellectual and leadership skills necessary to become the next generation of African American activists.”
The presence of these two buildings made it possible for more Black students to attend the University of Iowa than would otherwise have been possible, helping to further integrate that institution. Many of these student residents went on to become active in the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century. Some were active in organizations such as the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Others were trailblazers who entered professions that had previously been largely or entirely closed to Blacks, and became early role models for other Black professionals.