Fifty years ago a race riot broke out in the downtown area of Waterloo — destroying businesses and injuring many. On Wednesday, a small group took a tour of the areas most affected to learn about Waterloo’s place in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
"Civil Rights in Waterloo Iowa has always been looked at through a negative lens," said Charles Pearson, a local historian who led the tour.
Pearson took tourists to several locations throughout the city such as: Sloan Wallace Field where the riot started, East High School where students walked out in protest of racial segregation, and areas where businesses and homes were destroyed in the arson that followed the riot.
"Waterloo has this great opportunity to be the only city in Iowa, probably, where people can take tours of civil rights landmarks, iconic locations, high schools, industrial sites, all these places tied to Civil Rights," said Pearson.
He said he sees it as a chance to increase local tourism.
"The South has shown us that civil rights history can have an economic impact if you package it right. People all over the world love to see where civil rights happened," said Pearson.
Which is why many wanted to join the tour, so they could share these stories with future generations
"Telling them the truth about what has happened, actual events, and how far we have grown," said Connie Jones.
"Fifty years later we were able to have a black mayor, 50 years later we were able to have a black city council representative, So there was something good that came out of the worst racial riot in the history of Iowa," said Pearson.
Pearson said he’s encouraging the city to put more efforts towards preserving its history, like participating in a Civil Rights trail project that intends to stretch across the state. The trail would highlight places where Martin Luther King JR and his wife visited back in the 1960s.