THE ONGOING TASK
In establishing the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the legislature directed it "to eliminate discrimination" in Iowa. This is a most herculean task indeed, since discrimination (especially on the basis of race and color) is deeply ingrained in the very fabric of our society (in Iowa, as well as elsewhere).
In last year's annual report, the commission noted that while discrimination is prevalent and widespread in Iowa, it is lessening. A similar prognosis is made now, but on a more optimistic note that the pace in expanding equal opportunity has quickened. To accelerate these gains must be considered as the prime ongoing task not only of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, but of all "concerned" citizens in our state.
Although the mere passage of laws is not a panacea, laws nevertheless set the standard. In this regard, the commission is advancing four major legislative proposals for consideration by the 63rd general assembly. These proposed amendments to the Iowa Civil Rights Act include: (a) that the requirement that a $500 bond be posted with a housing complaint be eliminated; (b) that the commission be granted authority to seek temporary injunctions in housing complaints; (c) that the requirement be eliminated that an appeal of a commission order to a district court involve a trial de novo (that is, from the beginning on all applicable facts and issues); and (d) that the commission be granted pre-hearing investigatory remedies to allow subpoenaing of records during the investigation stage rather than having to wait until the calling of a public hearing.
The two major political parties are to be commended for their many progressive proposals touching human rights and human resources in their respective platforms. For example, both parties are on record in favor of: (a) repealing the $500 bond requirement; (b) granting authority for this commission to seek temporary injunctions in housing complaints; (c) encouraging the use of multiracial textbooks in schools; (d) special intergroup relations training to school teachers; (e) providing low-income housing for the poor; and (f,) encouraging comprehensive job-training programs for the economically disadvantaged.
In addition, the Democratic platform urages or encourages: (a) greater authority and appropriations for the Iowa Civil Rights Commission; (b) repeal of the referendum requirement on low-income housing; (c) state matching funds for rent supplements; (d) legal action to prohibit discrimination by state agencies; (e) legislative implementation of recommendations of the Kerner Commission; (f) legislation to correct racial imbalance in schools; and (g) legislation to make a local human rights director an ex officio member of the local civil service commission. The Republican platform also suggests: (a) providing tax incentives to industry to encourage job training; and (b) providing low-income housing through work credit and lease-purchase concepts. These proposals, many of which were included in this commission's total legislative recommendations to the platform committees, present a real opportunity and challenge for the legislature to continue its progressive action in civil rights.
As stated above, laws merely set the (necessary) standards -- but it is the administration and enforcement of the law that gives it meaning. In its first three and one-half years of operation, this commission has tried a number of innovative techniques to administer and enforce the law impartially, but compassionately. With an increased staff now, the commission faces the future optimistically hoping that it will be better able to ferret out and eliminate discrimination, as well as substantially reduce personal prejudice and bias.
A comprehensive approach to tackling social ills is essential, requiring the involvement of many elements of the community and private citizens. The stimulus for this involvement comes most effectively from the top. In this regard, Iowa indeed has been fortunate over the past six years to have as its governor a man of vision, compassion, and dedication to the cause of true equality of opportunity and of social justice. Governor Hughes' personal efforts -- in enlisting the cooperation of municipal officials, state officials, religious leaders, and private businessmen in establishing meaningful ongoing programs for the disadvantaged -- have involved hundreds of people in human resources activities for the first time and have given a fresh dimension to those others who had already been involved. Continued dynamic leadership from the office of the governor in the future will keep this impetus in civil rights going.
Probably no area requires such an extra dimension in sensitive and adequate reporting than does civil rights. Once again, we are fortunate that the overwhelming majority of the news media in Iowa is committed to the cause of justice and equality in human relations. Both in news coverage and in editorial policy, the press in Iowa has been an important positive pressure and influence.
A state commission cannot possibly keep abreast of intergroup- relations situations in each and every major community around the state. Consequently, local human rights commissions can provide the needed driving force for equality of opportunity and social justice on the local level. To do their jobs effectively, these commissions must have the good faith backing of the mayor and city councilmen, plus that extra personal dimension of commitment that constructive steps must and will be taken to combat discrimination and prejudice (even if it necessitates so-called "rocking of the boat").
The year of 1968 saw the initial passage of local human rights ordinances in six cities (Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Fort Madison, Keokuk, and Mason City) and amendments to increase the coverage of existing ordinances in four cities (Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City, and Waterloo). Three other cities (Ames, Burlington, and Sioux City) also have human rights ordinances, as evidenced in Appendix C of this study. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission makes every effort to cooperate with the local human rights commission on a particular local problem, but insists that all applicable remedies at law be administered.
A report of this nature cannot be complete without at least a summation of some of the key problem areas, as viewed by this commission. In the area of employment, positive leadership by state and local governmental officials is needed to increase employment of minorities in governmental positions. In private employment, doors are opening that used to be closed to minorities. Many employers and unions are recognizing that aggressive recruitment practices are necessary to let minorities know that these changes are happening. Moreover, job training or pre-apprenticeship training is oftentimes necessary to help the under-privileged become equipped so that they might qualify on an equal basis in being hired and being upgraded or promoted. The commission stands ready to cooperate with employers (in private industry or in governmental agencies) in providing human relations training, so that intergroup tensions along the assembly line and in other on-the-job situations will be minimized.
The importance of the real estate industry in the elimination of discrimination in the sale and leasing of housing cannot be minimized. Voluntary compliance or total effective enforcement of the fair-housing law cannot act, however, as a panacea to eradicate ghettoes in Iowa communities. The lasting solution for minority housing problems must include not only elimination of discrimination, but also the maintenance of strong community action to provide dispersed low-rent housing for the disadvantaged who cannot afford to pay the going rate for suitable housing. Moreover, action is needed by the legislature to eliminate the requirement that a $500 bond be posted by a private citizen with a complaint charging discrimination in housing. Although a district court ruling5 has made it clear that a housing complaint filed directly by this commission need not -- indeed cannot -- be accompanied by the bond, it is still imperative that minorities not be discouraged (either economically or psychologically) from litigating their rights because of a bonding requirement which many consider to amount to putting a price tag on justice.
The area of public accommodations is the one where outright discrimination is the least prevalent, but also is an area where subtlety is most prominent. That is to say, few establishments in Iowa probably would absolutely refuse to serve minorities -- yet many tend to provide service of questionable quality to minorities.
The field of education has an unparalleled opportunity to provide positive and lasting results in the whole spectrum of civil rights, as most children are in school until at least the age of sixteen. Positive action by education officials is required to provide equal educational opportunity (that will provide each child -- black and white -- with the very best general education or technical training); and to promote intergroup and intercultural understanding among youngsters at a key time when their basic sociological ideas are being formulated. In this regard, the commission supports: (a) adequate remedial and guidance services to disadvantaged children; (b) Head Start and Upward Bound programs; (c) Title I, II, and III programs under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act; (d) the use of integrated textbooks and library materials in all of the schools; (e) extensive in-service human relations training for teachers and other school personnel; (f) teacher-training programs in institutions of higher learning focusing on specialized needs of disadvantaged children; and (g) racial balance in the schools.
Regarding the element of climate of opinion in intergroup relations, it is difficult to find a Negro, Indian, or Mexican- American adult who has not experienced unequal, indifferent, or abusive treatment by many -- but by all means not all -- whites. With discrimination so widespread and the effects so overwhelming, hostility is a natural result. As complete equality becomes a foreseeable reality, impatient agitation by minority people, especially young ones, is bound to mount. It is very possible then that outbreaks of violence may occur even after substantial action has been taken to solve problems.
In conclusion, the ongoing task in pursuing social justice and equality of opportunity is squarely before us. In the final analysis, it will take a dedicated effort by all Iowans to ensure that Iowa will truly mean "beautiful land" to everyone -- regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, or religion.
5 Equity proceeding #49972 in the District Court of the State of Iowa in and for Scott County on November 9, 1967.