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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.

Black and white photograph of shoppers inside St. Paul's Credjafawn Co-op at 678 Rondo Avenue c.1950.

Credjafawn Co-op, St. Paul

Shoppers inside St. Paul's Credjafawn Co-op at 678 Rondo Avenue c.1950.

Convention of Colored Citizens program cover

Proceedings of the Convention of Colored Citizens of the State of Minnesota program, 1869. This program was presented at the first political convention black Minnesotans held after gaining the right to vote. The celebration held on January 1, 1869 in St. Paul also marked the creation of the Sons of Freedom, the first African American civil rights group in Minnesota.

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.

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.

Black and white image of headline from the St. Paul Pioneer Press regarding the near-lynching of Houston Osborne, June 3, 1895.

Houston Osborne newspaper headline

Headline and text of a news item published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on June 3, 1895, describing Houston Osborne's near-lynching.

Black and white photograph of inmate believed to be Houston Osborne, c.1895.

Houston Osborne

Photograph identified as Phil Rice but likely of Houston Osborne, taken c.1895. Phil Rice and Houston Osborne were both clients of Fredrick McGhee; however, Phil Rice was white, so he is unlikely to be the man in this photograph. A photograph identified as Osborne from the same collection resembles a courtroom sketch of Rice, so it is possible the attributions were switched.
Image reproduced by permission of Minnesota State Archives.

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 while he was still alive. He died in prison eighteen months later.

Black and white photograph of Booker T. Washington, c.1906.

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington, c.1906. Washington was a highly influential, and often divisive, figure in the early twentieth century civil rights movement. He is famous for the "Atlanta Compromise," which endorsed separation of whites and blacks.

Black and white photograph of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, undated.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, undated. Wells-Barnett was born a slave in Mississippi. She made her fame as a journalist in Memphis, where she began a long career of reporting on lynchings in the South and elsewhere.

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