Black History in Minnesota: Firsts

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 state of Minnesota did not recognize blacks as citizens before 1869. In 1868, the Minnesota legislature passed the bill that gave black males voting privileges. In January 1869, the Convention of Colored Citizens of Minnesota was held in St. Paul to celebrate. It formed the first civil rights group in Minnesota, the Sons of Freedom. This group set up a network to help black people throughout the state keep informed about job opportunities, housing, and other matters of importance.

In both Minneapolis and St. Paul, a serious imbalance between the sexes existed. In Minneapolis in 1880 there were 164 black males aged 15 and older for every 100 females in the same age group. By 1810, the ratio had fallen to 146 to 100 in Minneapolis, but St. Paul still had 166 men to 100 women.

Only 44% of eligible black Minneapolis males over the age of 15 were married in 1910. Similar employment and homeownership patterns also existed. Men worked as porters, waiters, cooks, and janitors in hotels, restaurants, jobbing houses, and on railroads lines, while black women worked as personal or domestic servants.

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

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