Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
We are honored to have one of our books selected as the One Minneapolis One Read title for 2013. This year’s selection is A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks. (Last year’s was Spirit Car by Diane Wilson, also published by MHS Press.)
For more information on the One Minneapolis One Read program, please visit
About the book:
This compelling autobiography, first published in 1966, tells how Parks managed to escape the poverty and bigotry around him and launch his distinguished career by choosing the weapons given him by “a mother who placed love, dignity, and hard work over hatred.”
In 2010 we re-released the book with a new foreword by Wing Young Huie.
Gordon Parks (1912–2006)-–photographer for Life magazine, writer, composer, artist, and filmmaker-–was only sixteen in 1928 when he moved from Kansas to St. Paul, Minnesota, after his mother’s death. There, homeless and hungry, he began his fight to survive, to educate himself, and to “prove my worth.” Working as a janitor, railroad porter, musician, or basketball player in such places as St. Paul, Chicago, and New York, Parks struggled against poverty and racism. He taught himself photography with a secondhand camera, worked for black newspapers, and began to document the poverty among African Americans on Chicago’s South Side. Then his photographic work brought him to Washington, DC, as first a photographer with the federal Farm Security Administration and later a war correspondent during World War II.
Was there an e-reader under your tree this week? Amazon announced that over 4 million Kindles were sold in December, and analysts predicted high sales of the iPad 2 over the holidays. Whether you’re a brand-new or veteran e-reader, we have a deal to help you load up your device and get reading.
Check out the new Summer issue of Minnesota History, our quarterly magazine. Begin with photo essays on sexy lingerie, a ’50s sock hop, and an old brick schoolhouse reborn as condos. End with book reviews and a photo essay on stunning Dakota ribbonwork. In between, take a leisurely stroll through the articles.
Father Francis Gilligan and the Struggle for Civil Rights: Yes, right here in Minnesota and well before the activist years of the 1960s. He was called to the Twin Cities to teach moral theology at St. Paul Seminary in the early 1930s and got right to work. Inside and out of the classroom, Gilligan argued that racism was a grave sin. He merged Catholic social-justice teachings with sociology to fight discrimination in housing, hiring, and even burial practices.
Frances Densmore Gets the Depression Blues: Suddenly unemployed and no longer young, this self-trained ethnomusicologist from Red Wing struggled to keep working in tough economic times. She wasn’t poor enough to qualify for relief programs, and who needs music collectors when people are starving? Cultural ideals and popular interest in folk culture were changing, too. Densmore did manage to get by, and she amassed a huge archive of recordings, transcriptions, and writings. Modest renown came late to her, yet people today are still assessing her legacy.
From Emission to Pollution: Regulation and Changing Ideas about Smoke in the Twin Cities: It was an uphill battle to convince folks that smoking chimneys didn’t necessarily signal prosperity. Factories, ships, trains, office buildings, and homes belched thick, sooty coal smoke into the air as the industrial era moved into the early 1900s. In the end, St. Paul and Minneapolis took different paths to abating the nuisance, with the capital city in the lead. The secret to success? Regulation, yes, but also enforcement. And it helped to have a charismatic, energetic health commissioner, too.
The Summer 2011 issue (volume 62, number 6) is available for sale in the MHS museum store, 651-259-3010. Or subscribe–four issues a year delivered to your door!
Guest blog post by Minnesota History editor Anne Kaplan
The 8th Annual Somali American Independence Day Tournament began this past weekend at St. Paul Central High School and will come to a close when a champion is crowned on July 4th. The tournament celebrates both the Independence Day of Somalia, which is July 1st, and the Independence Day of the United States, the Somali community’s new home.
“We are not coming here to play the best players in the world or the best in the United States, we are coming here to play with people that have a common identity with us. We are Somalia, and we are American now,” says Guled Dalmar, 27, of Dallas, TX, in an interview by Andy Gerder in the Pioneer Press. The tournament not only unites Somali refugees from all over the country to share the sport they all love, but it also creates an open forum for the players and spectators to share their stories of hardship and triumph with their fellow countrymen.
As Guled Dalmar mentions, a shared Somali American identity unites the participants. But as we discover through Minnesota Historical Society’s Becoming Minnesotan: Minnesota Immigrant Oral Histories Project, the topic of identity is difficult for all recent immigrants, including the Somali population.
Throughout this series of wonderful interviews, the issues of cultural preservation and identity, assimilation into American culture, and the difficulties navigating the transition are especially difficult given the deep traditions within Somali culture. For example, Maryan Del, a participant in the oral histories project, discusses the importance of the Hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by devout Muslim women for the sake of modesty, and tells how women make a decision whether or not to wear it.
To hear more Somali oral histories and learn more about the Somali community in the Twin Cities, follow this link and click “Somali Stories.”
Joined at the Hip: A History of Jazz in the Twin Cities, by Jay Goetting with a foreword by Leigh Kamman, is the story of jazz music, musicians, and venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul from the early days through Prohibition and the Swing Era, then to bebop and beyond.
Jay and Leigh will be at the Artists’ Quarter this Saturday, May 7, from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. to discuss and sign their book. Books will be available for sale courtesy of Common Good Books. After the event, stay at the club to enjoy the music of Atlantis Quartet. (Book event is free; $10 cover for the show.)
Listen to Jay on Minnesota Public Radio
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter titled “The Clubs”
Finding live jazz in the Twin Cities today requires some planning. Gone are the days when nightspots clustered in the two downtowns or in neighborhoods like the Near Northside. The Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis and the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul have regular offerings, but what else? Rossi’s, Jazzmines, and the Times are past tense. Occasional venues include the Riverview Cafe, the West Bank School of Music, O’Gara’s Garage, Famous Dave’s, and the Capri and Old Log Theaters. There are others, to be sure, but most spots feature jazz interspersed with an eclectic mix of R&B, pop, rock, and hip-hop, sometimes to the confusion of would-be patrons who are not sure what to expect or who arrive expecting jazz and get something else. But there was a time when listeners knew what they wanted and where to get it, and they returned again and again to hear first-rate talent at well-known local clubs and large venues.
For a long time, the tiny community of Mendota on the river bluff was a locus for jazz. Jax Lucas, a professor and a stringer for DownBeat magazine, once dubbed Mitch’s “the Nick’s of the Midwest,” after the famous Dixieland house in Greenwich Village. Herman Mitch first opened the club in 1939, having previously run the Silver Stripe at Dale and Selby in St. Paul. Pianist Red Dougherty served as mayor of the hamlet in the late thirties and early forties. He also owned the popular Parker House restaurant, an upscale eatery that became Axel’s River Grille.
In 1949 Leigh Kamman’s Dixieland Caravan emanated from the reopened Mitch’s, run by Herman’s son, Bob. The program featured the Mendota Buzzards, Harry Blons’s band with Eddie Tolck on drums and vibes. Tolck said, “Those were fun days. Anybody that meant anything who was in town would be there. Bob Eberle, [Jack] Teagarden, [Lawrence] Welk’s sidemen. The program was somewhat scripted but informal.” Also in Blons’s new band were several players from the first Mitch’s, Hal Runyon, bassist Willie Sutton, and saxophonist Dick Pendleton. The newcomers included Lyle Smith, Russ Moore, and Warren Thewis, successively, on drums, Jerry Mayeron followed by Hod Russell on piano, and Bob Greunenfelder on trumpet. Shortly after, however, highway construction closed the club for good in October 1950.
Mendota had more than its per capita share of clubs over the years. There was Doc Evans’s Rampart Street Club (1958–61), which had been the Bow and Arrow and later morphed to become a rock club, Ragin’ Cajun. There was also the Colonial, Gay Paree, and the Hollywood. Listeners found the nearby River Road Club—known for its unruly clientele and the music of Cornbread Harris and Augie Garcia—by taking a shortcut through the Emporium’s parking lot. Prior to the club’s closing, several people misjudged the road and ended up in the river.
. . .
St. Paul also had its live-music clubs. It hosted the Dakota beginning in the 1980s before the club left Bandana Square for its posh digs on the Nicollet Mall. The city is still home to one of the Twin Cities’ premier listening rooms, the Artists’ Quarter, now in its second downtown location since leaving Twenty-sixth and Lake Street in Minneapolis. Drummer Kenny Horst, who runs the Artists’ Quarter, quipped during the recent economic downturn, “The good thing about jazz is you don’t notice the recession. It’s never great, but the audience is steady.” Horst also noted changes in the jazz-club scene: “You used to get Bill Evans or Dizzy Gillespie for two weeks. Now, you’re lucky if you can book someone for a couple of nights.” Horst adds that musicians call him from New York and elsewhere offering to play for a percentage of the door: “In our day, we wanted a guarantee. Now, club owners want a guarantee. There are not a lot of people out there that can draw.”
Jazz historian Kent Hazen says that Horst has had a keen sense for programming: “Kenny was very entrepreneurial in his ability to seek out a backer or talk some club owner into having a jazz quality. He was very persistent and has kept the public awareness of jazz at as high a level as it could be with little or no help.” Horst now co-owns the Artists’ Quarter along with musicians Billy and Ricky Peterson and Hod Boyen, plus Jerry Kennelly.
The Artists’ Quarter has managed to bring in some big names in jazz as well as some familiar visitors who were once a part of the local jazz fabric.
From Joined at the Hip: A History of Jazz in the Twin Cities by Jay Goetting
In 1928, sixteen-year-old Gordon Parks arrived alone on a train in St. Paul with plans to live with his sister after his mother’s untimely death. In St. Paul, homeless and hungry, he began his fight to survive, to educate himself, and to fulfill his dreams.
In his compelling autobiography, A Choice of Weapons, Parks, who went on to fame as the first African American to work at Life magazine and the first to write, direct, and score a Hollywood film, reported that he told an interviewer in 1999, “I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.”
In a new foreword to the book, contemporary photographer Wing Young Huie writes, “St. Paul served as an incubator for us [Parks and Huie] both. I had dreamed of becoming a photographer in my early twenties, but it wasn’t until fifteen years later that I finally committed to the idea and set about doing it. I made many excuses along the way, but none of my barriers–real or self-imposed–were even as remotely challenging as the obstacles Gordon faced. His spectacular rise from poverty, personal hardships, and outright racism is astounding and inspiring.”
The MHS Press is proud to publish Parks’s poignant coming-of-age memoir, which has been embraced by many throughout the United States, from high schools in Los Angeles to community centers in New York City. As part of our celebration of Black History Month, we’re offering a free copy to the first person who e-mails us with the answer to this question:
What Hollywood movie is director/producer Gordon Parks best remembered for?
E-mail your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And enjoy this excerpt from an early chapter in the book, set during Parks’s first months in St. Paul.
In honor of Black History Month, we bring you an amazing story of early Minnesota told by historian William Green in his book, A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Early Minnesota.
In 1827 a military officer brought Jim Thompson, born a slave on the Virginia plantation of James Monroe, to Fort Snelling. There the young Thompson became fluent in French and Dakota. Methodists in Ohio purchased his liberty in 1837 so he could work as a translator for a missionary at Little Crow’s village of Kaposia. The mission lasted just two years. Thompson married a daughter of the Dakota leader Cloud Man, was briefly one of the whiskey sellers in what would become St. Paul, ran the first ferry across the Mississippi, and was a major donor to the construction of the city’s First Methodist Church. But his efforts to protect a girl from rape and his testimony at her assailant’s trial left the best clues to his character and his position in the community.
Somali-American writer Yasmeen Mavamuud will be at the Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis this Saturday, May 22, at 3:00 to discuss her book Nomad Diaries.
Nomad Diaries chronicles the lives of Somali-Americans, the trials and tibulations, successes and joys, of builing a new lives for themselves in the United States.
While the book is set in Minneapolis, Yasmeen Maxamuud actually lives in San Diego, so don’t miss this opportunity to meet her.
Earlier this week, Cathy Wurzer, host of MPR’s Morning Edition and author of Tales of the Road: Highway 61, interviewed historian Annette Atkins about the life and works of African American architect Clarence W. “Cap” Wigington, who was the lead designer in the office of St. Paul’s city architect from the 1920s through the 1940s.
Wurzer and Atkins, who is a professor of history and the author of Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out, met at the Wigington Pavilion on Harriet Island and had a lively conversation about Wigington’s work (the Highland Park Water Tower is Atkins’s favorite) and his remarkable achievements—including designing Winter Carnival ice palaces. Read more about him in Cap Wigington: An Architectural Legacy in Ice and Stone by David Vassar Taylor and Paul Clifford Larson, which features lovely color reproductions of some of his drawings.
Wurzer is seeking suggestions for further history topics. What untold Minnesota history tales would you like to hear explored on the radio? Send her an e-mail (email@example.com) or message via Twitter (@CathyWurzer).
With Saturday’s open house at the new Target Field, followed by the Gophers-Louisiana Tech game, we’re reminded of the many terrific baseball stories in Swinging for the Fences: Black Baseball in Minnesota,edited by Steve Hoffbeck. Here’s a fun sample: “Willie Mays with the Minneapolis Millers, 1951.”