Civil rights activist Ernest Rodriguez of Bettendorf is one of five Iowans to be inducted into the Second Iowa Latino Hall of Fame during ceremonies Oct. 20 in Des Moines.
Rodriguez was born in 1928 in the predominantly Mexican settlement in Bettendorf known as Holy City. His father, Norberto Rodriguez, migrated from Mexico in 1910 at the age of 17, and in 1919 he married Muggie Belva Adams, an African American woman from Alabama. They moved to Bettendorf in 1923.
The Rodriguez family lived in Holy City's boxcars and "flats" from 1924 to 1937 when they moved to southwest Davenport. 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, where 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.
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 Human Relations Commission where he successfully targeted the need for a paid, full-time director for 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.
Rodriguez became the director of the newly created Area Board for Migrants, where he was instrumental in lobbying the state legislature for the creation of the Spanish Speaking Peoples Commission, the forerunner of the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs.
In 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. Additionally, Rodriguez assisted Hispanics in filing discrimination complaints with appropriate government agencies. He developed an immigration assistance program which is currently sponsored by the Davenport Catholic Diocese.
In 1970, Rodriguez was appointed to the Iowa Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and was a member of a team that toured the State of Iowa to make on-site assessments of community race relations in a number of cities.
Rodriguez worked as an Equal Employment Officer for 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.