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All Roads Lead to Jimmie Porter

posted on December 6, 2007 at 4:59 PM


Jimmie Porter, who died November 14, 2007, in Waterloo, gave voice to minorities in his community for decades.

Porter was a vocal African-American activist whose projects included providing food and shelter and education for low income African-Americans in Waterloo. He also instigated radio station KBBG-FM, a station whose goal is to "communicate to educate."

Porter also led sit-ins and protests against unfair hiring practices. He started a community garden to provide vegetables and food. He started the UNICUE center and Martin Luther King centers for educating the young. And, he started the Logandale Apartment Complex project (now called Clearview) to provide low-income housing.

Jimmie Porter: I dream that Waterloo some day is going to be brought to the point where black people are going to be treated in such a way that they're not ever going to have to continue to be treated as underclass citizens.

Narrator: Jim Porter is committed to leaving this world better than the way he found it.

Jimmie Porter: Everyday I'm committed to resolving or attempting to destroy some of those things that are barriers to the betterment not of only to myself but to also to my children and my grandchildren. The Enabler Program is committed to finding ways and methods always and changing method as it becomes necessary to be able to deal with this system and this society that we live in.

Narrator: The man has many styles, they can be loud and offensive when he feels he has to be or he can be gentle and captivating. Jimmy Porter fits no mold. He defines all labels, one fact however does remain constant. When improvements in Waterloo's black community are examined and the paving of neighborhood streets to the hiring of minorities in city and county government, all roads lead to Jimmy Porter.

That commitment began in 1948 when a 17 year old Jimmy Porter arrived in Waterloo.

Jimmie Porter: I came to Waterloo from Mississippi. I was looking for the Promised Land.

I was disappointed because I found the land but I discovered that the promise was even worse than where I came from. The thing that was of a shock to me was how well Waterloo had domesticated its black people and it placed them in a row that was almost to me was insulting and, and they had learned their place and was living within that place that had been designated to them by white people in Waterloo.

Narrator: On a daily basis Porter travels his community visiting many clients and it's during these encounters that dismal fact keeps recurring. When the poor are faced with monetary problems, the one item that's easiest cut from family budgets is food.

Jimmie Porter: What we have decided to do since we can not meet all their needs financially to see that they have a balanced diet is we decided that we would grow the food and then we came here and we planned this four and a half acres the basic foods that people of this area consumes.

I think black people are people who have the responsibilities of keeping this country humanized, I think that's their role.

My thing is if I had all the wishes in the world, I'd like to see people not be hungry.

I'd like to see people have adequate housing and heat. I don't give a damn about million dollars. I would just have to turn around give it away because I know too many people of needs.

The problem that we face as black people are not going to go away and we, we're not going wake up in the morning and wish them away. We're not going sing we shall overcome and they're going to go away and further more we're not going to pray ourselves out of this mess. The only way we're going deal with it is through methods that's sophisticated enough that's going to demand and I think we have to use that word. That's going to demand that we get them.

They're not going to give them to us.

Narrator: In the 1965 comparative urban study entitled Negros in Cities, Harvard University Professor Karl Tabor labeled Waterloo, Iowa the fifth most segregated city in the country. Today progress and education and employment opportunities can be measured for Waterloo's blacks and much of the credit should go to the on going work of Jimmy Porter.

Jimmie Porter: People say to me don't ever you get tired? How come you work seven and a half days a week? Why do you stay up all night? My thing is if the more I get done, the less my children will have to do. There is not another group of people in the world America period would allow to be oppressed and live with it.

The anger in me says you've got to do something about it or you're going to destroy yourself. As tired as I am and as worn as I might get there's still a number of miles ahead of me before I can sleep.

And so I've got to get as much done as I can, and I'm going to do it. There's not a man in the world more optimistic than I am.

Tags: activism African Americans civil rights education Iowa roads water Waterloo

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