Minnesota Events in Black History

African Americans in Minnesota

Earliest Records

  • Late 18th century-1802 – (Pierre Bonga-Stephen Bonga) black fur traders were born in Duluth. Bungo Brook in Cass County was named after the family. More than 100 of their descendants lived in Leech Lake region through the 1900s
  • Slaves owned by officers at Fort Snelling after 1820 and southern families who vacationed in MN during 1830s-1860s. Various slaves gained freedom during this time – Rachael (1831-1834), Dred and Harriett Scott (1836-1838), Eliza Winston arrived in Fort Snelling in 1827 and became the only Black member of the St Paul Settlers Association.
  • MN was officially organized as a territory in 1849 – the first census recorded 40 free persons of African descent, 30 lived in St Paul and there was only one Black resident recorded in St Anthony (Minneapolis) by the name of Maria Hayes. By 1863 there were 78 persons in Minneapolis (50 lived in St Anthony)
  • Place of birth for these residents listed most frequently Virginia and Kentucky
  • According to the census 95.4% were literate
  • During 1850s free Blacks and fugitive slaves migrated to Minnesota
  • The Black population nearly tripled from 1860 at 259 to 1870 at 759 most living in St Paul
  • Much of the migration from the south was for Jobs and Opportunities in urban areas and land to homestead
  • A significant number migrated from Canada
  • 1870 – St Paul population had 20,030 and by 1905 197,023 people. 28.8% were foreign born
  • Minneapolis and St Paul merged in 1872 – Residents were mainly driven to the Rondo, St Anthony, Central, Carroll and University Avenues of Minneapolis and St Paul due to racial tendencies, these neighborhoods became the principal centers of Black residential life. The movement out of downtown was almost completed by WWI; by 1930 the Rondo area was 47.8% Black.
  • 1870-1890 the Black community had grown over sixfold 1870 the population of Minneapolis was at 162 – 1885 673 and by 1895 it doubled to approx 1,300-1,400
  • 1901 there was a Black newspaper (edited by John Quincy Adams) – the Appeal. It reported St Paul as having the larger percentage of Black homeowners in 1900 than any other city in the US.
  • 1910 60.5% (1,904 out of 3,144) were Black males from upper South migrating due to employment opportunities
  • By 1910, Blacks started to move from the Seven Corners area into North Side neighborhoods being vacated by Jews. By 1930, a ghetto was clearly definable.

Leadership and Organization

  • St Paul and Minneapolis Pioneer Press in 1887 described 13 Black Leaders with incomes between $5k and $100k
    • James K Hilyard – 1866 operated a used-clothing store, sold real-estate and insurance and served as a band-master for a group popular musicians
    • Both were organizers in Republican clubs and Masonic Lodges, formed Literary societies
    • They are the producers of the first Black newspaper Western Appeal which later became the Appeal Publishing Company
    • These two men were instrumental in luring professional people to the city. 1880s St Paul and Minneapolis lacked Black doctors, lawyers, dentists and teachers. In 1883 an article in NY Globe emphasized potential business opportunities and desirability of living in St Paul. Hilyard lured John Quincy Adams, journalist and Civil Rights advocate to the city in 1888 as well as Frederick L McGhee, the state’s first Black criminal lawyer and Dr. Valdo Turner, a Black physician.
    • Combined efforts attracted William R Morris in 1889, a lawyer from Tennessee and Dr. Robert S Brown, a Doctor from Chicago, the first Black physician licensed to practice in Minneapolis. J Frank Wheaton, a lawyer and first Black elected to the MN Legislature in 1899. Charles W Scrutchin, a criminal lawyer settled in Bemidji in 1899. William T Francis, an attorney before WWI in St. Paul, was appointed US minister to Liberia in 1927.
    • Varying leagues were established and occurred it’s demise:
      • St. Paul Black Dramatic Club – 1879
      • St Paul formed Black Police and Fire Departments in the 1880s and 1890s
      • A city Black militia was authorized in 1880 – called the Rice Guards
      • 1880s formed Black Republican political clubs
      • MN Black Women’s Christian Temperance Union 1884-1937
      •  1887 – MN Protective and Industrial League – within 2 yrs this league expanded to Anoka, Duluth, Faribault, Minneapolis and Stillwater. This league led to form the National Afro-American League in 1890 – the first national attempt to secure affirmation of Black political and civil rights through judicial process
      • MN Citizens of Civil Rights Committee formed in 1891 to test the legality of Tennessee’s Jim Crow law
      • 1903 with WEB Dubois and Frederick McGhee (the first attorney) formed Niagara Movement and in 1905 formed Twin City Protective League, an organization interested in improving Black living conditions
      • They became representatives for the 1913 NAACP in St Paul
      • 1915, the St. James Church in St Paul formed the Helper publication posting job and housing references. Also, the Hall Brothers Barbershop served as an employment center by posting jobs available. The Negro Business leagues in both cities aided in opening new areas of employment.
      • 1923, the Twin Cities Urban League was founded. In 1938, separate units were formed for each city. This took on much of the notification for job employment opportunities.
      • In 1924, the Phyllis Wheatley House opened with W. Gertrude Brown as the director. This agency provided recreational activities, baby and dental clinics and classes in Black history and culture.
      • Neighborhood House, in St Paul was established in 1897, originally for Russian-Jewish immigrants. By 1903, it had large participation of Black youths.
      • Welcome Hall Community Center was opened in 1916, offering Bible classes, recreational activities, a girls’ club, and the first-day care facility in a Black community.
      • Christian Center was founding in 1926 by Rev. Joseph Walter Harris wanting to provide non-denominational religious education and wholesome recreation. It featured classrooms, library, music room, social and reading rooms, cafeteria and dining hall, guest rooms, and an apartment for the resident director.
      • The Young Women’s Christian Center YMCA was developed in 1923, reorganizing it’s limited “colored” program, continuing through to 1928,. The result was the Hallie Q Brown Community Center, under the direction of I Myrtyl Cardin in Union Hall.
      •  1932, two Black newspapers were started in Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Spokesman edited by Cecil E Newman- the longest surviving newspaper in Minnesota. The 2nd is the Northwest Monitor edited by William Helm but failed after one year.
      • By 1935, more than a dozen fraternal and secret orders and two dozen clubs of various kinds existed in the Twin Cities. One was Credjafawn Social Club (an acronym fashioned from the first letters of the names of the members founded in 1928, existed through 1980.

The Twin Cities 1910 to 1980

  • Annual events for the emancipation of West Indian Slaves from 1868-1932
  • Emancipation of American Slaves Annual celebrations beginning in 1869
  • From 1915 to 1920, recruitment in the south for Blacks to assist in the Northern labor shortage from wartime economy. From this effort, it is estimated that from 300k – 1million Black people left the South in these years. This style exodus also occurred during WWII and 1950’s and 1960s.
  • During wartime, jobs opened up for Blacks allowing them to be skilled and trained to retain the jobs after peace came. This enabled them to send their children to college and support community institutions that would be important in mobilizing resources for the civil rights struggles of the 1950s – 60s.
  • The Twin Cities grew from this effort: 1910 the Overall Black population was 7,084 to 8,809 in 1920. In St Paul grew 7.3% from 3,144 to 3,376 in 1920. Minneapolis had a 51.5% increase from 2,592 to 3,927
  • In 1919, the median wage of a Black male head of household in the Twin Cities was only $22.55 per week at a time when the US Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding $43.51 per week as the amount necessary for a family of 5.
  • 1920s the ghettos were created – Minneapolis iwt was the North Side and Seven Corners
  • By 1930 the Minneapolis ghetto area contained 50.2% of the city’s 4,176 Black people and had the highest incidence of blighted and deteriorating housing, poverty, vice and crime. This did not change, greatly, through the 60s – 70s
  • In St Paul, the ghetto concentration was along Rondo Avenue, lower Rondo area was called Cornmeal Valley, a reference to the growing poverty and social dislocation in the 30s.
  • Other areas in St Paul were the river flats and tenement district
  • In 1930, the Twin Cities ghettos had one of the lowest illiteracy rates for Blacks in the nation, even lower than foreign born Whites, Mexican and Chinese residents. Only 1.7*% of Blacks over 10yrs of age were illiterate. In St. Paul, the figure was 1.2% (for the country as a whole the rate was 16.3%)
  • In 1950, The median income for Black families in Minneapolis and St. Paul was $2,160 and $2,294 respectively.
  • Between 1960 – 1970, St Paul Blacks incurred a change in their dispersion in the city because of the dislocations caused by freeway construction and urban renewal. Two additional areas emerged, one along Wheelock Parkway and Suburban Maplewood.
  • Between 1950 and 1970, the Black population in Minnesota increased from 13,775 to 34,868, a gain of 153%. Minneapolis experienced a record 436% increase in Black population and St. Paul, 388%.
  • By 1970, only 18% of Blacks were classified as professional, technical, managerial or administrative.
  • By 1970,  it increase dot $7,353 and $7,250. Almost 67% of Black families in both cities earned less than $10,000 a year. Approximately 21% were receiving public assistance.


  • 34,868 Black Americans in Minnesota
  • Under 1% of MN Population
  • 97.3% reside in urban areas
  • 19005 (54.5%) Minneapolis
  • 10930 (31.3%) St Paul
  • 857 (2.5%) Duluth
  • 51.3% of Blacks 25yrs old had 4 or more years of HS and 66.5% between 18-24 had that much schooling.

All of the above information is from They Chose Minnesota – A Survey of The State’s Ethnic Groups – June Drenning Holmquist, Editor – MN Historical Society Press St Paul 1981

From 2000 to 2010, The Black Population – US Census Bureau 2010 Census Briefs


2000: 202,972

2010: 327,548

% of MN Population: 6.2%

% of change from 2000 to 2010: 61.4%


Hennepin County (includes Minneapolis and its suburbs. Excludes St. Paul)

2010 Black population: 135,986 (11.8% of the total county)


Ramsey County (includes St. Paul and its suburbs. Excludes Minneapolis)

2010 Black Population: 55,950 (11% of the total county)


1990 Black Population


US Pop: 248,709,873 – Black Population US 29,930,524 (12%)

Minnesota Total Population: 4,375,099

MN Black Population: 94,798 (2.2%)