Race Relations in Waterloo
Summary and Observations
In its May 1971 report, Walk Together Children, the Iowa Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted:
The situations that exist in Waterloo are symptomatic of racial hostilities and strain that exist in many American communities. There is a desperate need for a change in the employment and educational structures of the city. This change must come, however, from the government and the people of Waterloo.
So it is in December 1999 when the Iowa Advisory Committee revisited the city of Waterloo to review race relations 28 years later. The Advisory Committee was told that some changes had occurred, but that there was still much work to be done to improve race relations. For example, the local public school district was described as being unresponsive to cultural differences of African American children while at the same time making special provisions for other children. Because of past incidents of racial harassment and discrimination in student discipline matters, the school district is being monitored by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.
Forum participants observed that for a number of years, the city of Waterloo has been monitored by outside agencies in terms of employment, housing, and education. It is now time for federal agencies to step in and enforce federal civil rights laws. For this reason, the Iowa Advisory Committee invited representatives of several federal agencies to participate in the community forum. The forum participant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights stayed in Waterloo an extra day to talk with school district officials about compliance with OCR directives. During the course of the forum, representatives from HUD, EPA, and HHS made themselves available to take civil rights complaints from community members. These same representatives met with residents after the forum to describe in more detail their agencies’ jurisdiction over civil rights matters.
The Iowa Advisory Committee also notes that as a result of EPA’s involvement in the community forum, the city of Waterloo submitted and was approved for a $200,000 grant. In addition, the Advisory Committee was notified that the Waterloo Commission on Human Rights was approved to receive funds from HUD to process fair housing complaints.
Federal agencies must engage in outreach to inform people about their civil rights and how to file a complaint if those rights have been violated. One way for federal agencies to educate the public is by participating in community forums sponsored by State Advisory Committees to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Iowa Advisory Committee will continue to hold these forums so that persons can be informed of their civil rights.
Finally, the Iowa Advisory Committee is hopeful that the race relations dialogue promoted by the Waterloo Commission on Human Rights will continue and expand to involve more citizens. Solutions to better race relations lie with people coming together to develop common goals and implement plans to make Waterloo a more livable city.
 Iowa Advisory Committee, Walk Together Children, May 1971, p. 12.