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'The First,' Or 'The Only,' Being Black In Small-Town Iowa

Ty Rushing Comic Book Cover
Josh Harrell/Bri Harrell
Courtesy of Ty Rushing
When Ty Rushing got a letter from a reader of The Northwest Iowa Review calling him a "Black agitator," an editor suggested it as his new superhero name. With a little creativity from colleagues, Rushing took what was meant as an insult to create this comic book cover and embrace "The Black Agitator."

In today's "Iowa Week" episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe takes us out of the cities to small-town, rural Iowa where Black Iowans are often "the first," or "the only."

Kelli Gosch
Courtesy of Kelli Gosch
Kelli Gosch lives in Cresco, a small town in northeast Iowa.

In small-town Iowa, it can feel like everyone knows everyone else’s business and that’s true when it comes to racism too. Kelli Gosch lives in Cresco, in northeastern Iowa, with a population of about 3,700. According to Gosch, just 12 adults in Cresco are black. She is the varsity cheer coach at Cresco High School, and also a mother of three.

"The kids come up to me and they're like, 'Oh, Miss Kelly,' and they hug me and I'm like, 'you just called my daughter the n-word.'"

Chris Robinson
Courtesy of Chris Robinson
Chris Robinson now lives in Des Moines, but he grew up in western Iowa in the 1960's and 70's. His family was the first Black family in an all-white neighborhood.

Chris Robinson has lived in Des Moines for about 30 years, but he grew up in western Iowa in the 1960's and 70's. His grandparents raised him and owned a farm, but the family moved to Sioux City near Morningside College. They were the first Black family in the neighborhood.

"That's when we had people protesting. They just didn't want us there. Come to find out, I used to work at a gas station there on the avenue, and that's when I found out they had a petition going around to get us removed from the neighborhood."

Ty Rushing is originally from Kansas City and freely admits he didn't know much about Iowa until he moved here to take a job in Newton. He's been the first Black journalist at seven Iowa newspapers in the eight years he's lived in the state. Now, working at the Northwest Iowa Review, he's one of the few Black or brown faces in Sheldon. This summer of protest, as the Black Lives Matter movement was reignited by the killing of George Floyd, led to some interesting and frank conversations with coworkers, friends and others.

"This isn't a black versus white issue, this is an everybody against racism issue."

This program originally aired on 10-21-20.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River
Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa