Minnesota has always had more than its fair share of great African American books and authors. From a very crucial time period in the history of the Civil Rights Movement came two such works that should be on our list of the 150 Best Minnesota Books. Although both are written by journalists, one is a work of fiction and another non-fiction.
Lloyd L. Brown Iron City. New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1951.
Carl T. Rowan South of Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952.
Lloyd Brown has one of the more interesting biographies on our list. He was born in St. Paul in 1913, raised in local orphanages, became a leftist labor leader for the CIO, went to Europe to cover the anti-fascist movement, served in World War II, and afterward became managing editor of the literary journal “New Masses.” His novel Iron City was based on a true story and his own experience as a labor organizer (Iron City being the prison where the novel is set). Brown is perhaps best known for his biography of Paul Robeson, who said of Iron City: “Here are people, richly characterized, warm, honest, tender, angry human beings, struggling, fighting, suffering, and triumphantly living the problems and answers.” We can’t say that better so we will simply encourage you to read and discuss this book which is still in print by Northeastern University Press.
We claim Tennessee born and raised Carl T. Rowan as a Minnesotan. Remember our criteria for a Minnesota author: one has to have lived in Minnesota long enough to have been affected by the culture or to have affected the culture. Rowan received a M. A. in journalism from the U of M, wrote for the Minneapolis Spokesman and St. Paul Recorder and then worked at the Minneapolis Morning Tribune covering Civil Rights issues until 1961. Rowan’s provocatively titled first book South of Freedom began as a series of articles for the Trib which were his observations based on his visits to the south and for which he received a “Service to Humanity” award. Rowan also served as president of the Minneapolis Urban League before moving on to become a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Rowan saw himself “simply as a newspaperman.” I like the wording on the dust jacket of this book – “an ace Negro Journalist”!