Skip to main content

Rodriguez, Ernest, 1928-



  • Existence: 1928-


Civil rights activist Ernest Rodriguez was born in 1928 in the predominantly Mexican settlement in Bettendorf known as Holy City. His father, Norberto Rodriguez, was born in Arandas in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, and migrated to the United States in 1910 at the age of seventeen. He met Muggie Belva Adams, an African American woman from Alabama, in the coal mining community of Lovilia, Iowa. They married in 1919 and stayed in south central Iowa, living in coal mining towns such as Albia, Centerville, and Buxton. In 1923, they moved to Bettendorf, Iowa, after Norberto Rodriguez secured work in the foundry of the Bettendorf Company. The Rodriguez family lived in Holy City's boxcars and "flats" from 1924 to 1937 when they moved to southwest Davenport. Growing up with nine siblings, Rodriguez remembers "onion topping" in the nearby fields of Pleasant Valley, his mother feeding hobos during the Great Depression, as well as discriminatory practices his family encountered when they moved "uptown."

Ernest Rodriguez graduated from Davenport High School (now known as Davenport Central High School) in 1946 and served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953 when he was stationed in El Paso, Texas. In 1955, he married Juanita Serrano Segobiano, who pursued the path of a homemaker and chief caretaker of their nine children: Philip, Rebecca, Carlos, Christine, Maria, Yolanda, Ernest Jr., Alfonso, and Martin.

Ernest Rodriguez was a member of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen (AMCBW) Local 431 at the Oscar Mayer packinghouse in Davenport where he worked from 1959 to 1970. This period coincides with his increasing political and civil rights activism and his involvement as a founding member of local chapters of two Mexican American organizations - the American GI Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC Council 10). Through these organizations, Rodriguez worked with other Davenport activists to push forward a strong civil rights agenda beginning in the late 1950s and continuing throughout his life. During the 1960s, he served on the Davenport Human Relations Commission where he successfully targeted the need for a paid, full-time director to the commission. He stressed the importance of improving police-community relations as well as the need for the Davenport Community School District to hire more minority teachers, including Spanish-speaking teachers. In the late 1960s, Rodriguez served as co-chair of the Quad City Grape Boycott Committee to support the Delano, California, grape strike led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. In 1970, as director of the newly created Area Board for Migrants, Rodriguez was instrumental in lobbying the state legislature for the creation of the Spanish Speaking Peoples Commission - the forerunner of the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs. He advocated for a better understanding of Latino rights in Iowa and across the country. During the 1960s and 1970s, he initiated two bilingual newspapers (El Reportero and Columnas) as well as educational radio and television programs that reached a wide audience. Rodriguez worked as an Equal Employment Officer at the Rock Island Arsenal from 1975 until his retirement in 1990 after which he continued to serve on civil rights organizations including the Illinois Migrant Council and the Davenport Civil Rights Commission.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Ernest Rodriguez papers

Identifier: IWA0784

Davenport civil rights and Chicano activist, born in the predominantly Mexican settlement of Holy City in Bettendorf, Iowa.

Dates: 1910-2014

Oral history transcript, 2014 October 15

 Item — Box 1: [Barcode: 31858071028785]
Scope and Contents

Interview conducted by Natalie Roytman and Jalyn Souchek.

Dates: 2014 October 15

Additional filters:

Archival Object 2
Collection 1
2001-2010 1
20th century 1
Archives (groupings) 1
Bettendorf (Iowa) 1
Bilingualism 1