A couple of weeks ago, we ran a This Week in Freudenfreude entitled "Ladies Be Seated," about the all-female city council that now leads St. Paul, MN. Reader D.M. in Burnsville, MN, proposed, and was inspired to write, a follow-up, which we thought was a good idea. So, here is the first-ever This Week in Freudenfreude written by a guest contributor:
As a former resident of St. Paul, I'd like to say that I appreciated the item "Ladies Be Seated," about the City's governance over the years, as well as the kind words from its friends and neighbors that Sunday. All were deserved. The sixties and seventies were times of turmoil and change, in many ways laying the foundations for the current state of institutions that we take for granted today, a generation (or two) later.
Digging deeper, St. Paul is full of interesting history.
I (a white man) worked with and became friends with Bill Wilson (a Black man*) during the short while that we both were employed by 3M, a St. Paul-based company. After I was drafted and had to leave Minnesota during the Vietnam War, I learned that Bill was a member of a Citizen Participation Forum, an early experiment in good governance way back in the early '70's.
Bill was recognized as a leader, and was elected Governor of that Forum. Soon after, in 1978, he was elected to the City Council of St. Paul, where he served over a dozen years, the last two as President. His election was not only notable for his struggle for justice and equality for all people, but also because he was the first Black member to serve on the Council. After his time in office, he continued serving the people by founding Higher Ground Academy in St. Paul. This is a picture of him taken late in his life:
That is Melvin Carter, St. Paul's first Black mayor, shaking hands with Wilson shortly before his passing in 2019.
The very first non-white person in St. Paul's City Hall; that's an achievement worth noting. Bill quietly moved in without fanfare or drama, became an effective member for many years, and then quietly moved on to other challenges. But Bill had a secret superpower, too: his wife Willie Mae. She was already a civil rights activist when she met Bill. After their marriage, she became a community organizer in St. Paul with the Urban League. During this period, she once was labeled as an "instigator" by some members of the War On Poverty board for "stirring up the people." This did not dissuade her. While a lifelong member of the Urban League, she also served in successively more challenging roles to bring justice for all people. Both worked all their lives to serve their fellow Minnesotans. Willie Mae died not long after her husband, in 2021.
* - At the time, Black people were called "Negroes." I once asked Bill why, since Caucasians referred to themselves as "white," why Negroes didn't refer to themselves as "Black"? Bill had no answer, so the matter was tabled for later action.
Thanks, D.M.! And have a good weekend, all! (Z)