February 2019 – African-American History

RCHS Facebook Posts from February 2019 – African-American History In Minnesota & Ramsey County

Explore history with these snippets from past Facebook posts from the RCHS page.

Posts, event announcements, etc. have been edited for clarity and relevance.

This month we’ll be paying homage to the adversity and triumphs of African-American generations in St. Paul and greater Minnesota by highlighting influential people, places and events, sharing a significant part of American history. We take a look into the African-American history of St. Paul, greater Minnesota and America, including some of the people that have shaped where we are and who we are today, beginning in 1802.

Featured image, clockwise from lower left: Como Park Elementary School, Frederick McGhee, Booker T’s Café and Tavern, George Bonga, the Rondo neighborhood, William T. Francis (event post, not included below). Center: intersection of University and Rice Streets in Rondo.

Slavery comes to North America – 1619
Abolitionism and Underground Railroad – 1831
Civil War and Emancipation – 1861
Jackie Robinson plays for the Dodgers – 1947
Brown Vs. Board of Education – 1954
Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act – 1964-1965
Million Man March – 1995
First black president elected – 2008

George Bonga, the first person of African descent to be born in the State of MN (then, the Northwest Territory) to an African-American father and Ojibwe mother, was born in 1802. At 6 ft. tall and over 200 lbs., George was a influential fur trader, bi-lingual interpreter and lodge operator throughout his lifetime.

Athletes Bobby Marshall and John Cotton have two sports in common – sports that have 108 stitches and 1 lace! Still curious? If you guessed baseball AND football—you are correct! Bobby Marshall was one of the first African Americans to play for the NFL, as well as playing baseball and running track for the Keystones and Gophers. John Cotton was a St. Paul sports legacy, making All City 9 times (baseball/football), and devoted much of his later years to pass on his knowledge by coaching.
Image: John Cotton photo on left. Bobby Marshall photo on right, standing 2nd from the left.

There’s so much about Clarence “Cap” Wigington (1883-1967), the nation’s first African-American municipal architect. 60 of his buildings that still stand in St. Paul, including the Como Park Elementary School in this image. Several of Clarence’s creations are recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, and chances are that you pass by some of them all the time. Discover his entire fascinating career @ http://bit.ly/2McUaJj

It’s fitting that on this day we feature two of the first African Americans in Minnesota to make a career out of protecting others! Myrtle Carden made positive impacts in St. Paul by mentoring young women otherwise not serviced by white programs and in 1929 she was the first executive director of the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center. Jimmy Griffin moved mountains by becoming the first St. Paul’s first black Deputy Police Chief. The image shows Sgt. James S. Griffin in 1955. You can read all about his personal journey @ http://bit.ly/2Rtdbx3

Attorney Frederick McGhee was the first black criminal lawyer in Minnesota that helped open up opportunities for blacks in St. Paul. Frederick McGhee also founded Minnesota’s first NAACP chapter. Read more @ http://bit.ly/2QTjODE
And here’s even more about McGhee’s life and career for a bonus read:  http://bit.ly/2MgI7uo

Feature: The Rondo Neighborhood

The Rondo Neighborhood once stood as the center of St. Paul’s black community over 50 years ago, roughly between Marshall and University, Dale and Rice Streets. Many of the people of this neighborhood entered into their fields as the first African Americans in the area to do so: including doctors, lawyers and athletes. Throughout the decades, this tight-knit community continued to face the crippling effects of adversity, but also found triumphs along the way due to the men and women that helped contribute to its development.
Photo of Booker T’s Café and Tavern, 1960.

The Rondo community was destroyed in the 1950s when 1-94 construction took out the north part of Rondo, displacing over 500 families. Decades later, with the planning and preparation for the Green Line, some feared history would repeat itself, but St. Paul saw more civil rights, social equity and livability factors come into play. Individuals and organizations made an effort to keep enough stations along the route to better serve residents and businesses. Today the Rondo community is celebrated every July with “Rondo Days.”
Rondo Neighborhood, aerial photo from RCHS Collection.

Journalist, editor and prominent civil rights activist Roy Wilkins made this heartfelt observation of the Rondo Neighborhood, “(The Rondo neighborhood has) a riot of warm with sights that would make one from the rural portions of the South feel at home….”. “It seethes with the pulsating beauty of the lives of its people who feel intensely every emotion which stirs their being.”
Graphic: Photo of intersection of University and Rice Streets in Rondo.

For more on Rondo and the history of African-Americans in Minnesota, see the Ramsey County History magazine article at http://bit.ly/2QTjODE


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