UI history professors receive $400,000 grant to research housing, land-use segregation in Iowa

A project proposed by UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty members Colin Gordon and Ashley Howard was one of 26 in the nation to receive a highly competitive humanities grant.
Tuesday, January 24, 2023

By Katie Linder  

The Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder of the arts, culture, and humanities, will award $400,000 to two University of Iowa researchers studying racial segregation in Iowa.  

Colin Gordon
Colin Gordon

Colin Gordon, F. Wendell Miller Professor of History, and Ashley Howard, an assistant professor of History and African American studies, submitted their project Dividing the City: Race Restrictions and the Architecture of Segregation in the Midwest to the foundation for funding. Their project examines white reactions to Black migration in Iowa, focusing on the use of race-based property restrictions in the state’s metropolitan counties, resistance to these practices, and the implications for racial equity today. 

“We are excited by the interest and support of both the Mellon Foundation and the University of Iowa,” Howard says. “It will enable us to not just complete the research, but—more importantly—to do so in collaboration with Iowa undergraduate and graduate researchers, and in close collaboration with community partners.”  

The project combines the research interests of Gordon and Howard. Gordon’s recent work focuses on racial segregation in the Midwest and white reaction to the “Great Migration” before the  1960s, while Howard is a social historian of the Black Midwest experience, particularly urban unrest from the 1960s through today.  

Gordon and undergraduate researchers have completed work on the scope of race-based property restriction in Johnson and Black Hawk counties. Support from the Mellon Foundation will allow Howard and Gordon to extend this research into six more Iowa counties, examine their impact, and trace organizing efforts against this form of discrimination.  

Ashley Howard
Ashley Howard

“The history of racial residential segregation, and local civil rights, is well documented in settings like St. Louis, Detroit, and Chicago. But the Great Migration—and the white reaction—shaped the history of smaller states and cities as well. The Mellon funding, and support from the University, offers us a wonderful opportunity to tell that story,” Gordon explains.  

The project will give student researchers a unique experience to access historical documents, many of them handwritten, unsearchable, and buried in county recorders’ offices. Using these primary and archival sources, undergraduate and graduate students will then assemble and share the local history of race relations, residential segregation, and resistance with each community.  

The Mellon Foundation received 280 submissions from 150 institutions for this award. The UI proposal was one of 26 selected to develop a full proposal and receive funding. 

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. 

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.