African Americans Have Long History in Minnesota
UNDATED -- A Minnesota African American Heritage series is being hosted by four area history museums.
Coventry Cowens is the co-founder of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery. She says black people have a long history in our state going way back to 1802 when George Bonga was born near Duluth, believed to be the first black person born in Minnesota.
So we've been here a long time. In some areas of the state, we've been more quiet, just about in all counties of the state. Our history and our contributions are part of what the story is that we want to tell in that we've been here a while and we're contributing to the vitality of the state.
She says the museum has been around since September of 2018 and has gathered artifacts of blacks from locations all around Minnesota.
There's a group that still calls themselves the Fergus Falls 85, and that was some of the early pioneers that came and settled there from Tennessee. There aren't any of the original family groups that live there anymore, but there are some in the Twin Cities.
In 1863 the steamboats Northerner and Davenport brought enslaved people to Minnesota to work during the labor shortage caused by the civil war.
In 1898 John Wheaton became the first black person elected to serve in the Minnesota legislature.
In an example of history repeating itself, in 1967 racial tensions erupted on Plymouth Avenue in Minneapolis when blacks demonstrated against discrimination and police brutality. The Minnesota National Guard was called in the patrol the street for over a week.
According to the state census, in 1890 Minnesota's black population was about 3,700 people, only about .3 percent of the total population. The black population began growing significantly between 1950 and 1970 during the "great migration" of African Americans from southern states. By 2010 the census reported the black population in the state to be at 5 percent.
A partnership project of the Benton, Sherburne, Stearns and Morrison historical societies is hosting a series of informational events via Zoom happening this Saturday.
February is African American History Month.