Charles Toney—CHS Hall of Honor

A  Clinton High School student or 2020 graduate has researched and written the following article about one of the 2020 Hall of Honor inductees.  The induction ceremony will occur on Friday, April 16, at Clinton High School.

Charles Toney

Humanitarian Endeavors

By Jack Marlowe

            “I prefer to think of the pleasant recollections I have of Clinton…” said Charles Toney in a 1976 letter.  Toney was a 1930 Clinton High School graduate who went on to become a national leader in equal opportunity efforts, programs, and results.  He was known in the Midwest as “Dean of Affirmative Action.”  Born in 1913 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Toney lived in Clinton from age two until the end of first grade, and again in his teens.  While Toney fondly recalled his participation in wrestling, track, football and swimming at Clinton High (especially being instructed by renowned swim coach Howard Judd), he notes in the same letter that being denied access to Clinton’s new city pool because of the color of his skin was the beginning of his life’s work in civil rights.  “It is an oddity that the ultra-conservative community of Clinton contributed to my involvement in the Civil Rights movement.”

Toney at age 14 asked the Clinton City Attorney why he was not allowed to swim at Riverview Pool with the other children.  The answer he received was he couldn’t be in the same pool as white girls.

After graduation he attended St. Ambrose University and began working for John Deere in 1936.

In 1943, he and his soon-to-be wife Ann Palmer were denied service at Colonial Fountain, an ice cream shop in Davenport, which led to a case that ended as the first civil rights suit ever won in Iowa.

In 1965, Toney was the president of the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council and awarded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom award which Dr. King accepted in person.

Toney and his wife owned one of the first black businesses, a barber/beauty shop, in central Davenport. The couple had the only in-ground swimming pool in the inner-city where they taught swim lessons to inner city youth as admission to public pools was still not permitted to people of color. They also published a magazine, Sepia Record, (now Ebony), which focused on racial injustices.

When Toney was hired by John Deere in 1936, the company sent him to welding school because of his good work ethic and ambition, subsequently making him the first welder of color in Iowa or Illinois. He worked as a welder for almost 20 years. He left in 1945, to work on organizing labor groups, but returned to Deere in 1947.  In 1964, he became a personnel representative and in 1968, was promoted to manager of minority relations and became the first African American at an executive level.   In 1972, he was again promoted to Director of Affirmative Action. While serving at the executive level, Toney began the first voluntary affirmative action plan in the nation, which later became federal law. Toney also initiated corporate wide recruiting for John Deere at historically black colleges.

Toney reflected leadership and pride in everything he did and served in many community roles such as the president of NAACP, Davenport chapter, Catholic Interracial Council, commissioner, and Iowa Civil Rights, commissioner, just to name a few.  He died in 2009 at age 96.  His wife Ann died three years later.

Due to the pandemic, the Clinton High School Hall of Honor induction was postponed last year. The district is now planning to honor this strong class of inductees on Friday, April 16 at Clinton High School. The public will be invited for the luncheon and induction speech portion of the day. Social distancing, face coverings, and sanitation routines will be required.

The Clinton High School culinary students will cater the luncheon. Inductees will be guests of the Hall of Honor Committee. The luncheon will cost $10 per other attendees. Main entrees are Lasagne Al Forno (Italian Beef Lasagna) or Chicken Parmigiana (Chicken Parmesan). If you are interested in attending, please contact Deb Deters at ddeters@clintonia.org.

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