Race, Roads, and Right-of-Way: A Campaign to Block Highway Construction in Fort Madison, 1967-1976

In this lengthy article, the author analyzes the campaign led by minority residents of Fort Madison, Iowa, in the 1960s and 1970s to oppose a plan to rebuild U.S. Highway 61. This plan would have included rerouting the road through neighborhoods disproportionately inhabited by African Americans and Mexican Americans. Residents of the city and the outlying areas came together in a multiracial and multiethnic coalition that succeeded in blocking the highway plan while exposing racial, ethnic, and class divisions in Fort Madison. The author begins with a detailed review of the history of Fort Madison and the role of the railroad in shaping the town’s residential and commercial districts. Another section outlines the area’s economic growth and development. Details of the grassroots organizing and use of resources such as the NAACP are also provided. The author notes that for some Mexican American and African American residents, those living outside as well as inside the affected area, the campaign against the highway was part of a larger, national campaign against discrimination. Following a 1974 federal finding of discrimination in this project, some opponents of the highway relocation supported the discrimination charge, while others continued to focus on other reasons why the project should be blocked. The author concludes that the most significant result of the successful campaign was that the southern corridor was preserved as a residential area. The plan for low-cost improvements to Highway 62 was dropped until the mid-1980s, when construction finally took place.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Print
  • Features: Maps; Photos; References;
  • Pagination: pp 255-2
  • Serial:
    • Annals of Iowa
    • Volume: 68
    • Issue Number: 3
    • Publisher: State Historical Society of Iowa
    • ISSN: 0003-4827

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01150357
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jan 30 2010 11:08AM