Black History in Minnesota: Media and Business

February is Black History Month. Over the next several weeks, we would like to provide you with bits of information about the events and lives of African Americans in Minnesota with an emphasis on African Americans in the Twin Cities. We will not be able to cover every event or highlight every person as it is impossible to do justice to the tremendous impact of one people on a community. We hope to provide you with enough to whet your appetite to learn more about the history and the cultures that have helped create the rich, vibrant community that we are all a part of.

The presence of a growing professional class and the founding of the Western Appeal marked a major watershed in the history of the Twin Cities black community. John Q. Adams’s rise to a position of prominence between 1887 and 1922 signaled the advent of a new generation of leadership, and the Appeal quickly became the people’s paper. It defended the race against malicious propaganda, accorded recognition for individual achievement, and spoke out against prospective legislation on the national and state levels, while waging a militant local battle for civil rights. Moreover, the Appeal was an important advertising medium for black businesses, for it encouraged its subscribers to patronize them. Under Adam’s capable editorship the Appeal, which had a national readership by 1900, engendered pride and served as a strong unifying force locally. Through the doors of Adams’s spacious house on St. Anthony Avenue in St. Paul passed Booker T. Washington, William E. B. DuBois, William Monroe Trotter, and other prominent black national leaders.

Local black leaders in media and business during this time included Amanda Lyles and Cecil Newman. Amanda Lyles was one of the first women entrepreneurs in the state. A woman of many interests, she taught piano lessons, operated a hair salon, and, when her husband Thomas died, took over his funeral parlor business. She was the president of the State Federation of Afro-American Women’s Clubs and active in politics and in temperance movements. In the 1890s, she traveled around the United States trying to raise funds for a monument at John Brown’s gravesite and for money to build an orphanage and industrial school in Chicago.

Cecil Newman came to Minnesota in 1922. While working for the railroad he began publishing the newspaper that became the Minneapolis Spokesman. At the same time, he edited and published the St. Paul Recorder, a short-lived magazine, the Timely Digest, and spearheaded many successful social service programs.

Source: Taylor, David Vassar. African Americans in Minnesota: The People of Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002. Print.

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