Black Suffrage in Minnesota, 1868

From their state's admission to the Union until the mid-1860s, a majority of Minnesotans advocated the abolition of slavery in the South. Black suffrage, however, did not enjoy the same support. Minnesota's black citizens paid taxes, fought in wars, and fostered their communities. But they could not vote, hold political office, or serve on juries. This continued until 1868 when an amendment to the state's constitution approved suffrage for all non-white men.

Bonga, George (c.1802–1874)

Fur trader and translator, George Bonga was one of the first black men born in what later became Minnesota. His mother was Ojibwe, as were both of his wives. Through these relationships, Bonga was part of the mixed racial and cultural groups that connected trading companies and American Indians. He frequently guided white immigrants and traders through the region. Comfortable in many worlds, Bonga often worked as an advocate for the Ojibwe in their dealings with trading companies and the government.

Casiville Bullard House, St. Paul

The 1909 Casiville Bullard House in St. Paul is a rare example of a house built and owned by an African American skilled laborer in the early twentieth century in Minnesota. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 in recognition of its significance.

Cooke, Marvel Jackson (1901–2000)

Marvel Cooke was a pioneering African American female journalist and political activist. Cooke's groundbreaking career was spent in a world where she was often the only female African American. Talking about her work for the white-owned newspaper the Compass, she told biographer Kay Mills in 1988, ''there were no black workers there and no women."

Crispus Attucks Home, St. Paul

In 1910 there were over sixty orphanages and homes for the aged operated by and for African Americans in the United States. Minnesota had one of them: St. Paul's Crispus Attucks Home. The home was named for the African American patriot killed in the Boston Massacre of 1770. It served the community for six decades, beginning in 1906 during the Jim Crow era and ending in 1966 at the peak of the civil rights movement.

Dred and Harriet Scott in Minnesota

African Americans Dred Scott and Harriet Robinson Scott lived at Fort Snelling in the 1830s as enslaved people. Both the Northwest Ordinance (1787) and the Missouri Compromise (1820) prohibited slavery in the area, but slavery existed there even so. In the 1840s the Scotts sued for their freedom, arguing that having lived in “free territory” made them free. The 1857 Supreme Court decision that grew out of their suit moved the U.S. closer to civil war.

Eliza Winston Court Case, 1860

On August 21, 1860, African American Eliza Winston was freed from her Mississippi slaveholder in a Minneapolis court. After being granted legal freedom, however, Winston was met with white mob violence and had to leave the area, perhaps fleeing to Canada. The event showed that although slavery was illegal in Minnesota, many white Minnesotans supported the practice when it economically benefited them.

Godfrey, Joseph (c.1830–1909)

The U.S.–Dakota War of 1862 was a turning point in Minnesota history. Joseph Godfrey, an escaped slave, joined the Dakota in their fight against white settlers that summer and fall. He was one of only two African Americans to do so.

McGhee, Fredrick (1861–1912)

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Fredrick McGhee was known as one of Minnesota's most prominent trial lawyers. In 1905 he was one of a group of thirty-two men, led by W.E.B. DuBois, who founded the Niagara Movement, which called for full civil liberties and an end to racial discrimination.

National Afro-American Council Meeting of 1902

In July 1902 St. Paul hosted the most important African-American political event of the year: the annual meeting of the National Afro-American Council (NAAC). St. Paul lawyer Fredrick McGhee organized it and hoped that it would produce a more united and effective national civil rights organization. The opposite occurred.

Smith, Lena Olive (1885–1966)

Lena Olive Smith was a prominent civil rights lawyer and activist during the 1920s and 1930s. She made major contributions toward securing civil rights for minorities in the Twin Cities. Smith began fighting for the rights of others when she became the first African American woman licensed to practice law in Minnesota in 1921. She was the only African American woman to practice law in the state until 1945.

St. Peter Claver Church, St. Paul

Founded in 1888, St. Peter Claver Church was the first African American Catholic Church in Minnesota. The parish was created by St. Paul’s African American Catholic community and an Archbishop who vowed to “blot out the color line.”

The Near-Lynching of Houston Osborne, 1895

In the early morning of June 2, 1895, Houston Osborne, a young African American man, broke into Frieda Kachel's bedroom in her St. Paul home. When Kachel screamed, Osborne ran; he was caught and hanged from a cottonwood tree but let down before he died. He died in prison eighteen months later.

Thompson, James (c.1799–1884)

James Thompson was born into a life of slavery in Virginia around 1799. He overcame the hardships of that life to work as a capable English-Dakota interpreter for Methodist missionary Alfred Brunson. After winning his freedom in the 1830s he became a respected citizen of the city of St. Paul known for his accomplishments more than his skin color.

Western Appeal

The Western Appeal was one of the most successful African American newspapers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the height of its popularity, it was published in six separate editions in cities across the United States, including St. Paul.

Wilkins, Roy (1901–1981)

Roy Wilkins, who spent his formative years in the Twin Cities, led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1949 to 1977. During those years, the NAACP helped achieve the greatest civil rights advancements in U.S. history. Wilkins favored new laws and legal challenges as the best ways for blacks to gain civil rights.