The setting: late-19th-century Minnesota. The Civil War has ended and African-American men have been granted the right to vote by the 15th Amendment. But does access to the ballot box mean the eradication of discriminatory social restrictions? What “freedoms” exist and how does the state define “equality” during this period?
Generally speaking, this course is about the origins of civil rights in Minnesota; it surveys the black experience in the state, and the nature of black discontent and action within a predominantly white, ostensibly progressive society.
Specifically, the course examines the interracial tenor of the state’s changing demographic, the issues faced by civil rights proponents, the strategies employed by opposing forces, and the methods used to select leaders, particularly within the context of class and gender.
At the heart of this story are the people, both “ordinary” (like former slave and early settler Jim Thompson and black barbers who catered to a white clientele), and famed (such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W. E. B. Du Bois), all of whom embodied the slow but inexorable advancement of race relations over time.
It is through these barbers, entrepreneurs, and lawyers that you will learn how, in a state where racial prejudice wore a liberal mask, Minnesota’s black settlers maneuvered within a restricted political arena to bring about real and lasting change.
Required: William Green, Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865−1912 (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
William D. Green, PhD., JD, University of Minnesota, is a professor and Sabo Senior Fellow at Augsburg College. His books include A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota, 1837−1869 (University of Minnesota Press, 2015) and Degrees of Freedom, which received a Minnesota Book Award and the 2016 Hognander Award. Green is vice president of the Governing Board of the Minnesota Historical Society.