Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865-1912

Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865-1912

by William D. Green

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The true story, and the black citizens, behind the evolution of racial equality in Minnesota

He had just given a rousing speech to a packed assembly in St. Paul, but Frederick Douglass, confidant to the Great Emancipator and conscience of the Republican Party, was denied a hotel room because he was black. This was Minnesota in 1873, four years after the state had approved black suffrage—a state where “freedom” meant being unshackled from slavery but not social restrictions, where “equality” meant access to the ballot but not to a restaurant downtown. 

Spanning the half-century after the Civil War, Degrees of Freedom draws a rare picture of black experience in a northern state and of the nature of black discontent and action within a predominantly white, ostensibly progressive society. William D. Green reveals little-known historical characters among the black men and women who moved to Minnesota following the Fifteenth Amendment; worked as farmhands and laborers; built communities (such as Pig’s Eye Landing, later renamed St. Paul), businesses, and a newspaper (the Western Appeal); and embodied the slow but inexorable advancement of race relations in the state over time. Within this absorbing, often surprising, narrative we meet “ordinary” citizens, like former slave and early settler Jim Thompson and black barbers catering to a white clientele, but also personages of national stature, such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W. E. B. Du Bois, all of whom championed civil rights in Minnesota. And we see how, in a state where racial prejudice and oppression wore a liberal mask, black settlers and entrepreneurs, politicians, and activists maneuvered within a restricted political arena to bring about real and lasting change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781517909338
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Publication date: 01/14/2020
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 677,604
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

William D. Green, professor of history at Augsburg College, is the author of A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota, 1837-1869.

Table of Contents



Part I. The Barbers 

1. When America Came to St. Paul 

2. Maurice Jernigan Takes a Stand

3. On Becoming a Good Republican

4. The Sons of Freedom

Part II. The Entrepreneurs

5. Mr. Douglass and the Civilizable Characteristics of the Colored Race

6. Senate Bill No. 181

7. A Certain Class of Citizens

8. Professor Washington, Leader of the Race

9. The Renaissance of the Cake Walk

Part III. The Radicals

10. Wheaton and McGhee: A Tale of Two Leaders

11. The Election of J. Frank Wheaton

12. A Call to Action

13. A Defining Moment for McGhee

14. After St. Paul, Niagara

15. The Legacy

Epilogue: Time for a Different Tone of Advocacy



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