Central Minnesota’s Ties to Slavery

Feven Gerezgiher reports:

An alleged hate crime in the town called Cold Spring, located 20 miles outside of St Cloud, has returned attention to longstanding racial divides in central Minnesota. A multiracial family says it was racial bias that motivated the man who harassed them for months before he drove a car into their house in July.

St Cloud State University’s Christopher Lehman said the incident reminded him of an event in 1917, when a lynch mob drove a black man out of St. Cloud for being in an interracial relationship.

“What happened in Cold Spring could certainly happen as a continuation of those feelings that have always been there among people and have just never been confronted or addressed by their families or by the city at large,” said Lehman.

Central Minnesota’s early ties to slavery are strong, but not common knowledge.

Lehman authored the book “Slavery’s Reach: Southern Slaveholders in the North Star State.” He says in the mid-1800s, central Minnesota was a destination for slaveholders looking to invest in real estate and escape summer heat.

“The slaveholders who are investing in Minnesota have political control over St. Cloud and over central Minnesota in general,” Lehman said of the time. “So much so that central Minnesota becomes known as a political stronghold for the slaveholding class.”

Lehman said that influence continued in the area as European immigrants adopted pro-South and pro-slavery politics long after southerners departed. This worked to discourage Black people from moving to St. Cloud for nearly half a century, until the 1960s when government institutions wanted to diversify the local workforce.

According to Lehman, in recent years central Minnesota has begun to address its past, both by creating a park named after the state’s first slaves and by hosting community conversations.

Photo Credit: Thaiphy Phan-Quang


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