150 Years of Human Rights in Minnesota


In 1858, Minnesota was admitted to the Union. Its constitution declared that “there shall
be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state.” Thus, Minnesota joined the ranks of 16 other
free states, in a nation that also included 15 states where the slavery of African Americans
was legal. Only three years later, Minnesotans would
be among the first to answer the call to fight in a bloody Civil War, a war that would settle
the matter of slavery, yet leave much work undone — work that continues today, as America
still seeks to fulfill the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness guaranteed
to all. In this look back at Minnesota’s 150 years
of statehood, we’ll recall some of the milestones that have marked the struggle for human rights
in our state. It’s an epic story, a blockbuster, with twists
and turns and fascinating characters — and it’s still being written. It’s a story to which we all can still contribute…
but to do so, we need to know what’s happened so far. Let’s begin at the beginning — of Minnesota’s
entry into the Union. Minnesota became part of the United States
as the Minnesota Territory in 1849, and eight years later, Minnesotans drafted a Constitution. Well, actually, two constitutions, one written
by Republicans and one by Democrats. A major point of contention: whether black
males should have the right to vote. Republicans argued yes, but Democrats strongly
disagreed, and the only way to break this deadlock and allow Minnesota to become a state
was a compromise. So Republicans and Democrats agreed that the
constitution would prohibit slavery and guarantee religious freedom, but while everyone could
worship as they chose, only white males would be allowed to vote. But, as part of the compromise, the Constitution
would be easy to change — allowing Republicans to come back and amend it in the future. That they did, coming back time and again
to raise the issue of non white suffrage. In 1868, ten years after Minnesota became
a state and three years after the end of the Civil War, they finally succeeded ing passing
an Amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution. Minnesota thus became one of the few states
to voluntarily extend voting rights to blacks — two years before the 15th amendment to
the U.S. Constitution would mandate non-white suffrage. The battle of Gettysburg, fought over three
days in July 1863, is said to have marked the turning point of the Civil War. Between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans died in
that battle, that ended with Confederate General Lee’s retreat to Virginia. Four months later, President Lincoln would
honor their sacrifice and invoke the principles of liberty for which the Union had fought,
in his famous Gettysburg address. Minnesota played a pivotal role in that battle. The First Minnesotan Regiment answered the
call, and on the second day of the battle, amid savage fighting and mounting Union casualties,
a force of 262 Minnesotans charged the Confederate lines, engaging a force four times its size. In the end, more than 80 percent of the First
Minnesotan Regiment was dead or injured, but their heroism had halted a Southern advance
and bought other Union troops precious time — a sacrifice that would ultimately lead
to victory. While the Civil War was raging, another armed
conflict, between the United States and the Dakota people, would claim hundreds of lives. The Dakota Conflict began on August 17, 1862
along the Minnesota River in Southwest Minnesota, but its roots stretch back to Minnesota’s
earliest days as a territory. An 1851 treaty between U.S. and Dakota leaders
had ceded vast amounts of Indian land to the union, in exchange for money and goods — but
much of the promised compensation was never received, or was siphoned off by corrupt traders. In 1862 the Dakota faced food shortages and
famine. The attitudes of some white settlers were
perhaps summed up by trader Andrew Myrick, who declared that so far as he was concerned,
if the Dakota people were hungry, “Let them eat grass, or their own dung.” A series of attacks by Dakota warriors erupted
in Meeker County. Trader Myrick was among the first killed — he
was found with grass stuffed into his mouth. Dakota raids on farms and settlements in south
central Minnesota continued, and over the next six weeks white settlers and Minnesota
troops would sustain heavy casualties. In the end, the Dakota would surrender, and
more than 300 would be sentenced to death by military tribunals. President Lincoln commuted the death sentences
of most, but refused to spare 38 others. They were hanged, in a mass, public execution
from a single scaffold, on December 26, 1862 in Mankato. It was, and still is, the largest execution
in U.S. history. At the dawn of the third year of the Civil
War, on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It declared “that all persons held as slaves”
within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The proclamation did not immediately free
a single slave. It applied only to states that had seceded
from the Union, and its promise depended upon the Union winning the war. It also exempted border states that had not
joined the Confederacy. But the proclamation helped transform the
war, in the eyes of many in the North, into a war to abolish the scourge of slavery, adding
moral force to the Union’s growing military strength. The war ended with the surrender of the Confederate
Army on April 18, 1865. in January of that year, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment
to the Constitution; it abolished slavery in the United States. A year later, the 14th Amendment would grant
citizenship to former slaves, and to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. The 14th Amendment also declared that no state
could “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor
deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws which applied
to federal and state governments.” Despite these Amendments, the promise of equal
protection under the law and the right to vote would remain unfulfilled for at least
100 years — poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation would remain barriers to true
equality and reminders of the legacy of slavery. Yet these measures would become the basis
for changes that would redefine civil rights and reshape America in the 20th Century. In the aftermath of the Civil War and continuing
into the 20th Century, more than 400 state laws, constitutional amendments, and city
ordinances legalizing segregation and discrimination were passed in the United States. These laws governed nearly every aspect of
daily life, from education to public transportation, to health care and housing and the use of
public facilities. While the majority of Jim Crow laws discriminated
specifically against African Americans, other minority groups, including Asians and Native
Americans, also were frequently targeted. In Minnesota, one of the nation”s most progressive
states, eight anti-segregation laws were passed between 1877 and 1947, reversing Jim Crow
Laws and giving minorities” full access to public schools, transportation and other public
facilities.  In 1866 Congress passed a Civil Rights Act
that declared that all persons born in the United States were now citizens without regard
to race, color, or previous condition of servitude. As citizens, they could make contracts, testify
and sue in court, and own private property. President Andrew Johnson had vetoed the bill,
say that blacks were not qualified to be citizens, and that the bill would “operate in favor
of the colored and against the white race.” On April 9, 1866, Congress overrode the veto. Under the Act, those who denied the rights
of citizenship to former slaves were guilty of a misdemeanor, and if convicted, could
face a fine up to $1,000, or imprisonment for up to a year, or both. In 1867 Minnesota established a State Board
of Immigration to persuade potential settlers to move to our state, and by the end of the
decade, sixty-five percent of Minnesota residents were either immigrants or the children of
immigrants. German immigrants settled in cities like New
Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Shakopee, Stillwater, and St. Cloud; Norwegians settled at first in
Goodhue, Fillmore, and Houston counties, lured by the promise of plenty of land for farming. Swedes also came for the land — Minnesota,
with its rivers, lakes, and forests, reminded many of the similar geography of their homeland. “This Minnesota is a glorious country,” wrote
Swedish author Fredrika Bremer, “just the country for Northern immigrants — just the
country for a new Scandinavia.” Martha Ripley, born in 1843, was one of the
first female physicians in the Unites States, and a lifelong advocate for women”s rights. In 1886 she opened a woman-owned and operated
hospital in Minneapolis, called Maternity Hospital. At a time when hospital deliveries were rare,
her facility sought to provide a safe childbirth experience for women, including those who
were shunned and abandoned, often, because they had become pregnant out of wedlock. Her compassionate approach combined medical
treatment with social care, and taught new mothers how to care properly for their babies,
while also helping them to find work. Ripley also served as president of the Minnesota
Suffrage Association, and petitioned the state legislature for women”s voting rights. She said in 1911 of her hospital: 
“…It has been a home and shelter for deserted wives and widows; for homeless infants and
wronged and betrayed girls who needed its shelter and skillful care. In all these long years it has been like a
wise and loving mother to all who have come through its doors.” Fredrick McGhee was Minnesota’s first black
attorney, taking the oath on June 17, 1889, shortly after arriving in St. Paul, and arguing
his first case less than a month later. For McGee, there would be many firsts — in
life, law, and politics. He became involved immediately in challenging
Jim Crow laws in the courts. And with W.E.B. DuBois and other black leaders, in 1904 he
formed the Niagara Movement — the forerunner of the NAACP. His views were often at odds with the majority,
including the majority of blacks, who were Republicans — McGhee was a Democrat, and
unlike most blacks, a Catholic. Yet throughout his life, he remained true
to his own beliefs, and a tireless advocate for the rights of African Americans. Although the Spanish-American War sparked
unprecedented levels of patriotism as pro-war fever swept the nation during the late 1890s,
not all Americans applauded the cause. African-Americans, especially, were divided
on the war. Some argued that an oppressed people should
not take up arms on behalf of their oppressors; other believed that brave fighting by black
soldiers would enhance the standing of their race, and many black soldiers were eager to
prove themselves. Despite their valor, African-Americans who
answered the call to duty often found themselves victims of white racism and anti-black violence
while serving in the Armed Forces; and the war did little, in the long term, to defeat
Jim Crow and break down the barriers of prejudice. The first African American elected to the
Minnesota Legislature was also the first African American to graduate from the University of
Minnesota Law School. John Frank Wheaton was born in Hagerstown,
Maryland where his father claimed to be the first black man to vote in that state. Young Wheaton was educated at Howard University,
and moved to Minnesota in 1890. After graduating from Law School, he began
his long career in state politics. In 1896, he was elected a member of the Minnesota
delegation to the Republican Convention in St. Louis, and two years later won a seat
in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He was a supporter of civil rights and lobbied
for the commissioning of black officers during the Spanish-American War. Wheaton died in 1938. Robert “Bobby” Marshall was an all-American
end on the rough and tumble Gopher football teams of 1904, 05 and 106. The grandson of slaves in Virginia, Marshall
grew up in Minneapolis and attended Central High School, where he excelled in sports. At the University of Minnesota, he proved
to be an outstanding student as well as a fine athlete, graduating in 1907 with a law
degree. But there were too few African American clients
in the Twin Cities to support another black lawyer, and sports offered more opportunities,
He played professional baseball for teams in Minneapolis and St. paul in a segregated
black league, only later resuming his legal practice. An all-around athlete, he also played profootball
and was briefly a professional motorcycle racer. There are those who argue that in his prime,
he was the best athlete to come out of the state of Minnesota, and his name might have
been even more legendary, had it not been for segregation. He died in 1958 at age 72. On December 8, 1905, Nellie Stone Johnson
was born on a farm near Lakeville. Both her parents were active members of the
Farmer Labor Party, and role models for the young girl, who helped out her father by delivering
Union leaflets on horseback. As a teenager working as an elevator operator
at the Minneapolis Athletic Club, she organized her fellow workers after management cut their
wages. She would be active in labor, civil rights
and politics in Minnesota throughout much of her life, and in 1945, she became the first
African-American elected to public office in Minneapolis, when she was elected to the
Library Board. She would serve as an adviser and mentor to
many Democrat leaders including Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone. She died in 2002 at the age of 96, leaving
a legacy of political activism that helped shape our understanding of racism and what
it means to be an American. The first World War not only united America
to defeat a common enemy, it brought Americans from many nationalities together in ways that
few might have anticipated when the war began. In the early part of the 20th Century, tensions
were high between Catholic and Protestants, between Jews, Irish, and Italians. Each new wave of immigrants settled in their
own ethnic neighborhood and went to church, socialized with, and married within their
own culture. But the First World War changed that — regiments
drew from every race, creed, color and social group, and men from different religions and
nationalities would be together, and dependent upon each other for survival. The role of African Americans in the military
also changed. When the U.S. entered the war seeking volunteers,
blacks were not allowed to enlist because quotas from African Americans were filled. When the draft came in, blacks were once again
accepted and over 400,000 African Americans would serve in this conflict, in segregated
units, in a fight for democratic liberties they themselves did not enjoy.  Unlike blacks, American Indians in World War
I served in integrated units, and no group made a larger per capita contribution. Indian tribes had their own languages and
dialects that few outside the tribes understood, and many of their languages were not written
down. That made them an ideal resource for the U.S.
military, which needed to protect its radio, telephone and telegraph messages from German
intelligence. The military recruited these Indians as code
talkers to send messages back and forth in their native languages. The Germans were never able to break this
code. Women throughout America had sought the right
to vote since at least the mid-1850s, but their efforts had been met with score and
ridicule. By 1875 Minnesota women could vote in school
elections, but their franchise ended there. In Minnesota, one of the leading advocates
for women’s suffrage was Clara Hampson Ueland. In the years after World War I, she argued
that mothers “have been the force that makes for better homes and higher civilization”
and that women voters would bring a new moral concern to politics.  In 1920, the passage of the 19th Amendment
guaranteed that “the right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be
denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Shortly thereafter, Clara Hampson Ueland became
the first president of the national League of Women Voters. In 1920, in an event that would shock the
nation, three young black men, wrongly accused of rape, were lynched by a mob in Duluth,
Minnesota. Two teenagers — James Sullivan and Irene
Tusken — claimed they had both been assaulted by black workers employed by a traveling circus,
and that Tusken had been raped by five or six of them. Although a medical examination later found
no evidence of rape or assault, Duluth police arrested six black men identified by the teenagers,
and soon a mob of between 5,000 and 10,000 people formed outside the Duluth city jail. The mob seized three black men — Elias Clayton,
Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie — held a mock trial, and found them guilty of Irene
Tusken’s rape. They were taken to 1st Street and 2nd Avenue
East, where they were lynched. The next day, the Minnesota National Guard
arrived in Duluth to guard the remaining prisoners. The killings made headlines throughout the
country. Many were shocked that such an atrocity had
happened in Minnesota. In 2003, the city of Duluth erected a memorial
to the murdered workers, and thousands of citizens gathered to recall this sad chapter
in Minnesota history and to plea for tolerance and humanity. There was more proof that racism and hate
were not the province of the Southern states. The year after the Duluth lynchings, Minnesota
became the first state to pass an anti-lynching law. The following year, in 1922, the Ku Klux Klan
held its first meeting in Minnesota, in a woods near Minneapolis. By the next year, there were as many as 10
active Ku Klux Klan chapters in Minneapolis alone. Its influence in Minnesota and the Dakotas
continued to grow throughout the early 1920s. There were chapters on college campuses throughout
the midwest, and nationally, the Klan’s membership was believed to number at least 100,000. The Klan would fade in the North toward the
end of the 1920s, as opposition to Klan violence grew, and other issues came to dominate public
attention. But the prejudice and fear that motivated
cross-burnings and other notorious Klan’s activities remained — toward blacks, Jews,
Catholics and anyone who was not, in the Klan’s estimation, a true, loyal American. Until 1924, Indians were not universally considered
citizens of the United States. Although many had become citizens through
military service, special treaties, or by marrying a citizen, some could not vote or
enjoy the other rights of citizenship, and there was no path of naturalization available
to them, as there was for new immigrants. Then in 1924 Congress passed the federal Indian
Citizenship Act, which granted citizenship to all Native American born in the United
Sates. The move was seen as part of the some U.S
leaders’ goal to assimilate Indians into the American mainstream, and to recognize their
valiant service to the nation in World War I. In 1927 ten young African Americans created
the Credjafawn Social Club. The club provided the Twin Cities black community
with cultural, society and recreation activities, and was also a source of economic development,
philanthropy and activism. The club eventually opened a cooperative food
outlet and a credit Union, offered college scholarships, and worked to integrate hotels. The name of the club was derived by using
a letter from each of the original ten member”s names. Jews have lived in Minnesota since it was
created as a territory in 1849. Like many immigrants, they came to the United
States to escape religious and political persecution, yet often found it here in America, and especially
in Minnesota. While many American cities discriminated against
the Jews by limiting where they could live, work, or attend school, Minneapolis in particular
had a nation-wide reputation for its anti-Semitism. From the 1880s through the 1950s, the city’s
Jews were excluded from membership in many organizations, faced employment discrimination,
and were not allowed to buy homes in certain neighborhoods. The Jewish Community Relations Council of
Minnesota originated in Minneapolis in the 1930s in response to events abroad and at
home. The persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany; the
activities of hate groups like the Silver Shirts in Minnesota; and the anti-Semitic
overtones of the 1938 Minnesota gubernatorial campaign all encouraged the formation of an
organization to monitor and protest these activities. Beginning in 1936, an informal organization,
the Anti-Defamation Council of Minnesota, was the vehicle of Jewish protest against
all forms of anti-Semitism. In later years the council worked for passage
of fair employment practices laws and became involved a wide range of community activities,
supporting civil rights, civil liberties, separation of church and state, and cooperation
among religious faiths. Pipestone National Monument was created by
an act of Congress in 1937. For centuries Indians had come to this site
to quarry the red stone called pipestone, used to carve scared ornamental pipes, treasured
possessions that were often buried with ancestors. In the 19th Century the carved pipes found
their way into white society through trade, and though an 1858 treaty had promised Indians
free access to the area, white setters came to dig pits and extract the sacred stone. When Pipestone National Monument was signed
into existence, the land was open to the public but quarrying was limited to Indians. Pipestone National Monument is located in
southwestern Minnesota, just north of the city of Pipestone. In 1941, America entered World War II with
an armed force of only 175,000 — that force would grow to more than 8 million by the war’s
end. But war against Hitler”s Third Reich and the
Japanese Imperial Army was fought not only by American soldiers, marines, sailors, and
pilots, it was a war that fought and ultimately won by the American people — by farmers and
factory workers, by civiliians of both genders and all races: men, women, African-Americans,
Indians, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics.  By the end of the war, 150,000 American women
were serving in the Women”s Army Auxiliary Corps — as clerks, typists, researchers,
engineers, mechanics, and electricians. Another 74,000 women served in the American
Army and Navy Nurse Corps, and woman also served in other military branches. They were not allowed positions in combat,
but many worked in harms way and some were killed.  At home, women were filling jobs left by those
who were serving in the military, jobs usually reserved for men. Women also found new opportunities in other
fields, including, on the ball field: the All-American Girls Baseball League was created,
reflecting the shortage of major league male baseball players. African-Americans in World War II
African-Americans were allowed to enlist in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast
Guard under the 1940 Selective Service Act, and President Roosevelt also gave them the
permission to join the Air Corps. They served in segregated battalions — military
officials supported segregation because they believed integration would cause social disruption. After the war, President Truman issued a policy
of “equality of treatment and opportunity in the military.” And despite the opposition of some military
commanders, by the end of the Korean conflict, more than 90% of African-Americans served
in integrated units. In many large metropolitan areas, blacks and
Hispanics continued to be targets of racial animosity throughout the 30s and 40s. In 1943 race riots erupted in Detroit, Los
Angeles and Harlem, fueled by long-standing injustices. Concerned that such riots might happen in
Minnesota, Governor Edward Thye created a commission to study discrimination and economic
inequality and suggest solutions. The commission was later renamed the Governor’s
Human Rights Commission; part of its mission was to educate the public on discrimination
and human rights. It was another beginning, and a series of
state anti-discrimination laws followed: In 1955 Governor Orville Freeman signed the Fair
Employment Practices Act, outlawing discrimination in employment based on race, color, creed
and national origin — these protections would not exist on the federal level until almost
a decade later. In 1961 another Minnesota governor, Elmer
C. Anderson, signed the State Act Against Discrimination, which added religion to the
classes protected in the previous laws. The law would later be expanded to include
public accommodations and housing, and would ultimately be absorbed into a 1967 law that
would go even further in protecting the rights of all Minnesotans: The Minnesota Human Rights
Act. There had been progress, but in the 1940s
and early 1950s, basic human rights were still denied to many Minnesotans, including blacks
and Jews. In 1946 a famous sociologist, Carey McWilliams,
named Minneapolis as the most anti-Semitic city in the United States. A young Minneapolis mayor, Hubert H. Humphrey
was stung by the designation, and set out to change the social climate. That same year he established the city’s civil
rights commission, then known as the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights. And in 1948, under Humphrey’s leadership,
Minneapolis enacted the nation’s first municipal fair employment law. The “most anti-Semetic city in the United
States” would eventually, in 1961, elect a Jewish mayor: Arthur Naftalin.  Hubert Humphrey had awakened the moral conscience
of a city, and in 1948 at the Democratic National Convention, he would speak to the conscience
of a nation. In a fiery address, this little-known Minneapolis
mayor argued that America had waited too long for justice. He urged the Democratic Party to “get out
of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” His impassioned plea for civil rights lead
to a walkout by Southern delegates, who later selected Strom Thurmond as the presidential
nominee of their States’ Rights Party. But Humphrey nonetheless succeeded in spurring
the convention to add a civil rights plank to the Democratic platform. In the 17 and 1800s, the policy of the United
States government had been to relocate Indians to lands reserved for them — reservations. But in 1953 under President Dwight Eisenhower,
the government initiated a policy of encouraging Indians to blend in to the mainstream of American
society. Instead of emphasizing the economic development
of reservations, the Bureau of Indian Affairs now urged Indians to move to urban areas like
the Twin Cities. About 30 percent of American Indians were
relocated to cities between 1953 and 1961. While some prospered, many experienced economic
and spiritual hardships — unemployment, discrimination and the loss of traditional cultural supports.  The federal government would eventually repudiate
the policy, and re-embrace tribal autonomy over assimilation. But many say the damage was done — that the
relocation policy had devastating effects on tribal culture, and led to economic and
social woes that persist today. Others believe that despite the hardships,
some good came from the mass migration of Indians to the cities, where a revival of
sprit and sense of brotherhood would sustain them in a new, often hostile urban setting. From the 1930s until the 1960s, Rondo Avenue
was at the heart of St. Paul’s largest black neighborhood. African Americans whose families had lived
in Minnesota for decades, and others who were just arriving from the South, made up a tight-knit
community that was in many ways independent of the white society around it. Then came urban renewal — America was on
the move, and needed more freeways — and almost always, African Americans were the
ones who would have to make way for what was called progress. Poor and black neighborhoods, where property
values where lower, were targeted for destruction in cities across the country. St. Paul was no exception, and the construction
of 1-94 effectively erased Rondo and displaced its thousands of African American families. When the bulldozers came, they had no choice
but to move — to neighborhoods that often did not welcome them, in a discriminatory
housing market. Rondo was gone, but it’s spirit and legacy
is still celebrated every year at St. Paul’s Annual Rondo Days Festival. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the civil
rights movement began to challenge the racism that relegated blacks to the back of the bus
and to status of second-class citizens. One day in February 1960, four black students
sat down at a white’s only lunch counter at Woolworth’s in North Carolina, and asked to
be served. Although refused service, they stayed at the
counter. The event sparked a wave of sit-ins at Woolworth’s
lunch counters across the segregated south, and picket lines sprang up outside Woolworth’s
and Kresge stores throughout the country. In St. Paul picketers joined the NAACP boycotting
the local Woolworth’s store until the chain agreed to desegregate all of its lunch counters.  In the 1920s Minnesota saw the arrival of
significant numbers of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans from Texas, who came as migrant laborers to
work in the fields in the Red River Valley and in processing plants. They would arrive at harvest time and return
to Texas or Mexico in the off season, but as time passed, many began to stay here. Some sought jobs in packing houses in South
St. Paul, and by 1940 about 4,000 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans had settled on St. Paul”s
Lower West Side, on Robert, Wabasha and Concord Streets. There, they formed a cohesive working class
community, its social life centered around the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. Then, in the early 1960s, came urban renewal:
housing in the Lower West Side was demolished to make way for industrial development, and
Mexicans and other Latinos settled in other parts of the neighborhood. Some left the West Side to seek housing elsewhere
in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and some, the most affluent, moved to the suburbs, to Edina
and Robbinsdale. Today, while large numbers of Latinos can
be found throughout the Twin Cities, St Paul’s West Side is still home to a strong Latino
community. In addition, the neighborhood now includes
Lebanese, Syrians, and Southeast Asians who call the West Side home. The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council was created
by the Legislature in 1963 — its mission: “to protect the sovereignty of the eleven
Minnesota tribes and ensure the well being of all American Indian citizens throughout
the state of Minnesota.” The Council advises the Legislature on the
nature of tribal governments and on other Indian affairs issues, and administers the
Indian Business Loan Program, which offers Indians the opportunity to establish or expand
a business in Minnesota. The council strives for social, economic and
political justice for all American Indians living in the state, while embracing traditional
Indian cultural and spiritual values. It is the oldest council in the nation, and
serves as the official liaison of the Indian tribes and the state of Minnesota. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into
law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2 of that year. It declared that it was illegal to discriminate
in employment on the grounds of race, color, religion, or national origin,” and authorized
the federal government to act against those who would perpetuate these long-standing inequalities. In addressing the nation on television that
evening, President Johnson declared, “We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment… We can understand — without rancor or hatred
— how all this happened. But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic,
forbids it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids it.” Passage of the law did not come easily. Although a solid majority in both houses of
Congress supported the legislation, Southerners who opposed staged a filibuster that would
last for 57 days. President Johnson and a coalition of labor,
religious and civil rights groups lobbied intensely, and finally — in an effort spearheaded
by Senator Hubert Humphrey — a historic cloture vote ended the filibuster and the Civil Rights
Act became law. On April 27,.1967, Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. addressed a crowd of about 4,000 students at the University of Minnesota, speaking out
about racism, poverty and the Vietnam War. The Civil Rights Act had been passed three
years earlier, but Dr. King knew that the Act was only the first installment to redeem
what he had called a promissory note, on which America had defaulted. To fulfill the promise of equality contained
in its Declaration of Independence, much remained to be done, especially in the North. He continued to oppose the war, which had
claimed the lives of so many young African Americans, and to denounce longstanding inequalities
in northern cities. “I see no more dangerous development than
the build-up of central cities surrounded by white suburbs” King noted that day, at
the University of Minnesota. It was the last time many in the crowd would
ever hear the legendary civil rights leader in person; he would be assassinated less than
a year later. In the late 1960s, young Chicano activists
organized to struggle against racism aimed at Latinos, and to fight for social justice. Their movement supported and took inspiration
from Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, opposed the Vietnam War, and sought to assert
Chicano identity in cities and on college campuses. One of the largest organizations in the struggle
was the Brown Berets — a chapter was established in the Twin Cities in 1967. The Brown Berets worked to provide financial,
legal and educational support for the local Chicano population. The organization successfully campaigned for
a Chicano Studies program at the University of Minnesota, the first of its kind in the
Midwest. In the summer of 1968 three American Indian
Activists — George Mitchell, Dennis Banks, and Clyde Bellecourt — gathered together
a group of 200 Indian community members to talk about their frustration with discrimination
and decades of government policies — policies that kept them from controlling their own
destinies. Through these efforts to resist racism and
reclaim their heritage, the American Indian Movement (AIM) was born. AIM soon became a national organization. Its leaders spoke out against high unemployment,
slum housing and discrimination, and also fought for treaty rights and the reclamation
of tribal land. The organization attracted international attention
during a 71-day armed standoff between AIM followers and U.S. law enforcement officers
at Wounded Knee, South Dakota — the site of a U.S. military massacre of 146 Indians
in 1890. While blacks, women and other groups were
marching and demanding an end to discrimination, gays had remained invisible to most Minnesotans
throughout most of the activist 60s, and gays who lost their jobs, or faced harassment because
of their sexual orientation, often had no recourse. Then in 1969, two student activists at the
University of Minnesota decided to teach an informal class. “The homosexual and society.” The class laid the foundation for Minnesota”s
first public gay organization, called FREE: Fight Repression of Erotic Expression. In the years that followed Minnesota’s GLBT
— Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender — Community became visible and vocal. “Our message was simple,” recalled Dolly Rurak,
speaking at a rally at the state capitol to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the gay
rights movement. “We are here, we have always been here, and
we will always be here. We asked no special privilege, but only to
be treated under the law as others are treated.” In 1993, the Minnesota Human Rights Act was
amended to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation — currently, only 17 states
and the District of Columbia recognize sexual orientation as a protected class. For three days in January 1969, a group of
black students later joined by other activists took over Morrill Hall at the University of
Minnesota, to protest the lack of curriculum and academic opportunities for African American
students. Among their demands: that a program be established
“that would reflect the contributions of black people to the culture of America,” that the
University contribute to the cost of a conference on black students to be held at the U, and
that efforts to recruit black students be accelerated by placing the Martin Luther King
scholarship program in the hands of the black community. At the time, there were only about 100 black
students on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. But the protest ignited a conversation that
focused on their concerns, and sparked a series of events that led to historic changes — including
the university”s first Afro-American/African Studies program. Beginning in 1975, Minnesota saw the arrival
of a new ethnic group, most of whom came from north Laos. The first Hmong families came as refugees,
fleeing in peril from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. They had been recruited by the U.S. government
to fight its secret war against communists in Laos; with the fall of Saigon and the North
Vietnamese victory, their lives were in jeopardy. Churches aided the humanitarian effort to
resettle these refugees, and eventually more than 60,000 Hmong would settle Minnesota — in
Duluth, Rochester, Taylor”s Falls, and Marshall — but at least half would settle in Saint
Paul. Minnesota’s capitol city is now home to the
largest urban population of Hmong in the world. In 1977, Rosalie Wahl became the first woman
to serve on the state Supreme Court. Born in 1924, she was almost 40 when she became,
in her own words, “tired of sitting outside doors waiting for the men inside to make decisions”,
and decided to enter the William Mitchell School of Law. She worked as an assistant public defender
after graduation, and in 1973 she was offered a professorship at William Mitchell. Four years later Governor Rudy Perpich appointed
her to the Minnesota Supreme Court. She remained on the court for seventeen years
until she retired in 1994 at the mandatory age of 70. Playwright August Wilson brought audiences
a new understanding of the black experience in America in a series of critically-acclaimed
dramas. He was born in 1945 in a black slum in Pittsburgh;
his father was absent and his mother depended upon public assistance and income from cleaning
jobs to raise her six children in a shoddy, two-room apartment without hot water or a
telephone. He would learn to read at age four, experience
racial taunts as the only black child at a mostly white parochial school, and drop out
of school at 15 after one of his teachers wrongly accused him of plagiarism — she refused
to believe that a black child could produce such a well-written term paper on Napoleon,
on his own. In the Negro section of the Pittsburgh public
library, he began to educate himself, reading works by African American writers such as
Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. But while his roots were in Pittsburgh, he
found his voice as a playwright when he moved to St. Paul in 1978. In St. Paul he became associated with Minnesota’s
Playwrights Center and later, with the Penumbra Theater Company, which premiered many of his
works. Wilson died in 2005, leaving a legacy of ten
plays, each documenting a different decade of life in America. Two of his best-known works, Fences and The
Piano Lesson, each won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987 and 1990, respectively. He is the recipient of numerous other awards
and honors, including a 1987 Tony Award for Fences. On July 26, 1990 the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA) was signed by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA was the first comprehensive civil
rights law for people with disabilities in the world. The Act prohibits discrimination against people
with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, and in telecommunications. Since its passage, the Act has become a part
of our national consciousness, leaving its indelible stamp on our institutions and culture. Accessible parking places, closed captioning,
service dogs joining their companions in restaurants, elevator numbers in Braille; all resulted
from the ADA. The Act has brought people with disabilities
into the mainstream of American life: into restaurants and shopping malls, schools and
places of worship and the workplace. No wonder it has been described as the Civil
Rights Act for America”s 54 million people with disabilities. In 2002, more than 13,500 legal immigrants
arrived in Minnesota — more than in any previous year in the past two decades. They came from 160 countries, with immigrants
born in Somalia outnumbering all the others, followed by those from India, Ethiopia, and
Mexico. More than 90 percent of all immigrants settled
in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Rochester and St. Cloud areas. But the impact of immigration was felt throughout
the state — nearly one quarter of Mexican immigrants, 20 percent of Canadians and 12
percent of Somalis settled outside these metropolitan areas. The trend continued, setting a new record
in 2005 with more than 15,000 new arrivals, the highest number in 25 years. Two of every five came from Africa — from
Somalia, Ethiopia, Liberia and Kenya — but Mexico, China, Vietnam, Russia and Canada
were also among the top ten countries that had contributed to a changing Minnesota. Why did they come? Why do they keep arriving? For many of the same reasons Germans, Swedes
and Norwegians settled in Minnesota in the 1800s. In a word, opportunity. On the 150th anniversary of Minnesota’s statehood,
opportunity remains at the heart of Minnesota’s story, a bridge that unites our past with
our hopes for the future. The opportunity for education, for cultural
identity, religious freedom, and economic prosperity — for a better life. It’s the desire and birthright of all Minnesotans,
yet our people have not always shared equally in the fruits of what Swedish immigrant and
author Fredrika Bremer, called…”This Minnesota … a glorious country.” For some, prejudice and discrimination have
kept many doors closed. But we have struggled, since the beginning,
to break down those doors and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute. One milestone in this struggle is the Minnesota
Human Rights Act, that envisions and mandates a Minnesota that is discrimination-free. As we celebrate our Sesquicentennial, we know
that despite the inevitable complaints about subzero weather, Minnesota is exceptional
place. And it can be an even better place, especially
if we learn from our 150-year history. Because the future — the next chapter — is
up to all of us.

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