Several press releases should be mentioned as illustrations of some of the Commission's work which involved matters of general public interest. In many of these situations, the Commission came into the limelight after or while the matters were aired in the press.
Community Tension in Waterloo: The first such report involved a Commission fact-finding investigation of the events surrounding the death of a Negro in a Waterloo jail in the summer of 1966. The primary role of the Commission in the midst of this difficult situation -- which was rife with pitched emotions, scattered racial disturbances, and community concern -- was to keep an open line of communication between city officials and Negro leaders.
The Commission's subsequent public report emphasized both the need for positive community efforts to combat general insensitivity toward Negroes and the need for cooperation among public agencies and Negro leaders in improving communication and general conditions. Specific projects recommended to the city included such things as staff and budget for the city human relations commission, improvements in Negro areas in city facilities such as paving and lighting, stricter enforcement of sanitation ordinances in Negro areas, active recruitment of Negro policemen and firemen, and inservice training on intergroup relations for police officers.
Questionable Resignation of Public Employee: The Commission was requested to investigate the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the manager of the Youth Opportunity Center in Des Moines in August of 1966. Following a preliminary investigation, the Commission filed a formal complaint against the Iowa Employment Security Commission, alleging that the former manager had been pressured into resigning because of his activities relating to apprenticeship programs. He earlier had made public statements reflecting on the insensitivity of local unions to the problem of the lack of nonwhites in apprenticeship programs.
The Civil Rights Commission made a finding of no probable cause, after a lengthy investigation. The Commission's public report noted that the resignation "resulted in large part from (the ex-manager's) public statements regarding the union." But the question of responsibility, involving motive and intent, could not be accurately pinpointed. The individual involved was not interested in regaining his former job, and the Commission noted that there was "insufficient reason to proceed."
"Infidels" in State Employment: The Commission elected to release its official position in a matter of public interest involving religious qualifications for state employment. Public attention had been called specifically to a policy in at least two state agencies of excluding "infidels" from employment. The Commission's public statement, issued in January of 1967, noted: "Iowa law quite clearly prohibits public officials from using any religious test as a qualification for any office or public trust." Practices singled out as unlawful included the requesting of information about religious affiliation as a prerequisite to hiring, as well as dismissals based upon religious affiliation or belief or lack of it. The Commission's conclusion was based upon provisions of Iowa law, the Iowa and federal constitutions, and United States Supreme Court interpretations of the federal constitution.
Treatment of Foreign Visitors: A formal complaint was filed by an African visitor, who alleged that because of his race he was denied equal access to a place of public accommodation. The complainant -- a student at a four-year college in that city -- allegedly had been physically abused and forcibly evicted from a restaurant following an argument with the owners of the restaurant. The Commission investigation showed that he had been a customer at that restaurant on a number
of previous occasions, and that he maintained a charge account there. Moreover, other non-whites had been served there.
Lacking sufficient evidence that racial discrimination had occurred in a place of public accommodation, the Commission made a finding of no probable cause. Unable to resolve
the widely-conflicting versions of who or what provoked the argument, the Commission recognized that the matter posed a question for civil action, if the complainant chose to take further action. Concerned, however, with the impolite treatment accorded the complainant, the Commission wrote a stern letter to the respondents reprimanding them for "a rather disturbing mishandling of a situation that could possibly have international consequences.'' The letter continued: "While there was not discrimination, there certainly appeared to have been callous disregard of the respect owed to any person, much less a foreign visitor to our state." The
Commission stated in another letter to the chief of police in that city that it is "abundantly clear to us that the whole incident could have been avoided by a prompt, fair settling of the matter then and there by the policeman," who had investigated the matter shortly after the complainant allegedly had been struck. The letter continued: "The decision of the policeman to procrastinate, perhaps even withdraw, was in our opinion a primary factor in elevating what would have been a minor incident into a near-major community disaster."
The Commission took the occasion, via public release of these two letters during the summer of 1967, to call the public's attention to the possible international overtones which local matters might provoke. In this instance, it was pointed out that the foreign visitor was being educated here, and would soon be going back to his native country of Kenya to assume a prominent public position. Any signs of racial discrimination or insensitivity against him in Iowa certainly amounted to a poor example of "good will" and to a setback for worldly brotherhood, the Commission implied.
Election Bias Rejected: In an event attracting more limited public attention, the Commission publicly commended voters in the West Bend Community School District for overwhelmingly rejecting what the Commission termed "an appeal to religious bias" in a school board election. A preliminary Commission investigation confirmed that an anonymous note had been sent to most non-Catholic voters in the district urging them to elect suggested write-in candidates, who were Protestants. The two incumbents -- both Roman Catholics -were elected by a nine-to- one margin.