Tag Archives: politics

Hayward and Effie McKerson

McKerson Image

Archival donations come to the museum through a variety of sources. This past spring the archive received a donation from Walker Methodist Care Center. Dr. Hayward McKerson had passed away in December 2017 and with no known surviving family members, the care center reached out to the archive to see if we had any interest in some of his photos and a few personal papers. The papers and photos of Hayward and his wife, Effie, share the story of an African American family that were active in their community and worked to stand up to discrimination faced by themselves and other African Americans.

Hayward grew up in Oklahoma, graduating from Douglass High School in Ardmore in June 1945. He served in the military for a time and attended Fisk University. He would ultimately become an engineer. Effie Stoker McKerson was born in Henderson, Texas in 1924 and she passed away in 2012. She was trained as a school teacher. Hayward and Effie settled in Edina in 1968, when a job transfer brought them to Minnesota. Eventually, he became the President of his own company, McKerson Chemical Corporation and Effie taught in the Edina Public School system.

The couple were very active in their community. They were both NAACP members and Hayward was active in the Elks and the Masons. Effie was active on the Edina Community Staff Advisory Council, the National Education Association, and Minnesota Education Associations. She also was very active in the Republican political party throughout the 1970s and 1980s. She served as a Minnesota delegate for President Ford to the 1976 National Republican Convention. And during the 1970s served as the Republican chairwoman for Minnesota. In 1975, she represented Minnesota on a trip to China, known as the U.S.-China Friendship Tour.

In 1982, Effie found herself in the middle of an affirmative action plan fight in the Edina public school district. Nine white elementary school teachers claimed they were “being laid off while a black teacher with less seniority” was able to keep her job. The teachers’ objections were with the affirmative action plan, which had been drafted by the school in the 1960s with the goal of recruiting more minority teachers. Eventually the controversy passed when some of the layoff teachers were rehired and other retired or resigned, and Effie continued to teach elementary school. Because of the controversy the school district adopted a new affirmative action plan.

The above photo of Hayward and Effie, in the middle, can be found in the McKerson Family collection in the Hennepin History Museum archives.

Sources:

“Edina teacher named to the HEW advisory panel.” Minneapolis Tribune. January 22, 1973.

“Margaret Morris Column.” Minneapolis Tribune. September 29, 1975.

“Teacher layoffs test Edina affirmative action plan.” Minneapolis Star Tribune. May 6, 1982.

“Budget backlash in Edina challenges school district’s affirmative action plan.” Minneapolis Star Tribune. May 13, 1982.

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Blood in the Streets: Governor Floyd B. Olson and the Teamsters’ Strike of 1934 

In 1934, the streets of Minneapolis were a battleground. Teamsters had declared a city-wide strike to end discrimination against union workers, and their cars of strikers chased heavily-guarded trucks to keep them from crossing picket lines. Roving battles were waged between convoys of police with riot guns and trucks of strikers. Crowds of club-wielding picketers and strikebreakers clashed in the market center over the unloading of goods onto non-union trucks. The three-month strike would be one of the deadliest in the state’s history.  

Truckers Strike 7.21.34

 

Standing between the two sides of this violent struggle was Governor Floyd B. Olson. A former prosecutor, Olson had clashed in the past with the anti-union organization the Citizens’ Alliance that had formed the backbone of strikebreaking in Minneapolis since the turn of the century. These efforts, along with prosecution of corrupt businessmen and the Ku Klux Klan had won him the support of working-class Minnesotans, who would elect him governor in 1930 — the first governor elected on a Farmer-Labor ticket. As the strike began in May of 1934, he would be torn between his ties to the workers who supported his candidacy and his need as governor to keep the peace and maintain order in the city.  

 Olson carried this personalized portfolio with him that summer as he worked tirelessly to facilitate negotiations between unions and employers. After the first major episode of violence just days into the strike, when twenty thousand strikers and onlookers crowded the market district and special deputies were driven back from their attempts to unload non-union trucks, Olson secured a short-term truce between strike organizers and business owners, and days later a broader settlement between the two sides. 

 Olson’s settlement unraveled by July, and the threat of more violence hung over Minneapolis. On July 20th it came to a head as a heavily-armed police escort moved trucks labeled “hospital supplies” to deliveries around the city. The trucks were met by cars of unarmed strikers that attempted to block their deliveries. Police, armed with shotguns, responded by firing upon the cars and strikers, injuring more than sixty and killing two. The governor’s worst fears had come true.  

 “Bloody Friday,” as the event became known, threatened to tear the city apart as the organizations of the wealthy rallied behind the police and the working class renewed efforts to support the strike. One-hundred thousand lined the route of the funeral procession for the slain union activist Henry Ness. Unions rejected new settlement offers. Employers continued to move trucks despite union blockades. Olson was forced to act.  

Truckers Strike 1934

 The governor declared martial law and raided the headquarters of both unions, arresting organizers and members of the Citizens’ Alliance.  

 This time, Olson’s decisive action successfully brought an end to the violence and forced the two sides to a lasting settlement. With the support of President Roosevelt and pressure from the federal Reconstruction Finance Agency, negotiations succeeded. Employers conceded to workers’ demands of union recognition, non-discrimination, and seniority in hiring and firing. The back of the anti-union Citizens’ Alliance in Minneapolis was broken and unions gained a foothold in the once fiercely anti-union city.  

Olson went on to win a third term as governor in November on the back of his success and then ran for Senate in 1936 but he died of stomach cancer in August, just three months before the election. Although his efforts were cut short, Olson is remembered as a fierce advocate of Minnesota’s working class. And eventually this portfolio made its way to Hennepin History Museum, preserved for all these years as a physical connection to the summer of 1934 and a reminder of Olson’s role as an intermediary.  

 Author Bio 

Noah Barnaby is a Research Intern at Hennepin History Museum. He has a bachelor’s degree in History and Philosophy from the University of Minnesota, and focuses on Social, Economic, and Labor History.  

 Resources 

See also: 

An interview  with strike organizer Vincent Raymond Dunne  

Bryan D. Palmer. Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934. Haymarket Books, 2014. 

 Charles Walker. American City: A Rank-and-File History of Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press, 2005. 

 Dennis Harrington. Floyd B. Olson and the Teamster Strikes of 1934. 1977. 

Minneapolis Hosts the Woman’s Relief Corps

Long before women won the right to vote in 1920, women were given the opportunity to vote in small-scale local elections through organizations like the National Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC). This ballot box was used by the women of the WRC to discreetly vote for the acceptance, or rejection, of a new candidate hoping to gain membership.

With the lid to the ballot box closed, votes were secret and each member cast either a white or black marble to indicate how they felt about the new candidate. If the box was full of white marbles the candidate was accepted, if it contained black marble the candidate was “blackballed,” or rejected from membership.

2017.0531.008 open

Founded in Massachusetts after the Civil War in 1879, the WRC began as a “secret” organization that served as auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and established Posts throughout the county. Women who had remained loyal to the Union were eligible to obtain membership regardless of race or where they lived during the war.

On July 22, 1884 Minneapolis hosted the Second National Convention of the WRC, establishing  the state of Minnesota’s headquarters in parlor No. 1, of the luxurious West Hotel located of Fifth and Hennepin. According to the Journal of the Second National Convention, “parlors were filled” by local members as well as National officers and delegates from abroad.

Author Bio: Olivia Schiffman is a volunteer at Hennepin History Museum. She has her Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, History, and Music from Hamline University. She currently works for the City of Hugo, digitizing records and compiling research on the cities one room schoolhouse, as well as the Minnesota History Museum, researching the history of underrepresented communities at Fort Snelling.

An Unconventional Convention Desk

By Evan Walker

This desk was made by students in the industrial arts class at South High School for the 1892 Republican National Convention. The chairman of the Republican Party, James S. Clarkson, sat behind it during the first and only major political convention ever held in Minneapolis.

The year was 1892. It was a wild and exciting time. Benjamin Harrison was the sitting president, running in the primary against three other candidates, including William McKinley, who would later be elected president in 1897. Though Harrison won the primary, his results were underwhelming and he would go on to lose the national election to Grover Cleveland, old Tippecanoe, who still stands as the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

The Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, drew over 35,000 people and was the first convention where women were allowed to be delegates, but our citizens were more jubilant about the opportunity to show the politicians and visitors that Minneapolis, the “Prairie Queen”, was no frontier town full of barbarians. People advertised in the newspapers about fabulous deals on flags and banners to decorate the city, and there was even a contest where one could guess the nominee and the date and time of the vote for a chance to win $87.50 in gold.

The Convention took place in the newly remodeled Exposition Building. The building was designed to “appear artistic but not gaudy, patriotic and grand but not overdone, and the whole design was made subservient to the vision of the visitor sitting in the farthest corner of the gallery.”

The desk once had three silver plaques commemorating how and when it was used, but only two remain today. The smaller plaques indicate that it was used again in the 1896 convention, held in St. Louis, and the 1900 convention in Philadelphia.

Plaque Detail 1

Plaque Detail 2

About the Author

Evan Walker recently completed a summer internship at HHM. He enjoys walks on the beach and sharing stories about people and events from the past. Evan will be going into his sophomore year at Luther College in the fall, studying history.

From the Collection: 1914 Voting Machine

 

By Olivia Schiffman, HHM Collections Intern

This ballot box, last used in Minnesota’s gubernatorial election of 1914, still holds the place cards that name the men running for office on the state and local level. On November 3, 1914, Minnesotans elected their 18th governor from among six candidates. They also cast votes in equally crowded races for offices ranging from State Treasurer to Supreme Court Clerk.

The majority winner was Democratic candidate Winfield S. Hammond. Unfortunately Hammond would only govern Minnesota for little under a year, dying in office on December 30th, 1915.

Half the population of Minnesota, however, would have no say in the election of Governor Hammond. Women were not able to vote in statewide or national elections, but they were not completely cut out from the election process. They did have the right to vote in school board elections—a constitutional amendment that came in 1875. With such limited voting rights, ballots cast by women posed a problem for election officials. How would they be able to safeguard against the possibility of a woman voting for offices restricted to male votes only?

While many districts had separate voting booths for men and women, this ballot box was used by both. A sign on the back of the machine in the bottom left reads, “BEFORE A WOMAN ENTERS THE BOOTH…” – and follows up with instructions on how to move the adjacent lever. This essentially blocked the possibility of an “illegally cast” ballot.

before-a-woman-enters

The election of 1914 would prove to be the twilight years for machines like this one. In 1920 women received their constitutional right to vote, rendering a separate system for men and woman obsolete.

Sources

MNHS Gale Family Library’s Guide to Suffrage

Politics of the Past by Zac Farber

Woman Suffrage Memorabilia

Mahala Fisk Pillsbury’s Inauguration Gown

On a cold day in January 1876, Mahala Fisk Pillsbury of Minneapolis, a prominent community member and philanthropist, took on a new title: Minnesota’s First Lady. Her husband of twenty years, businessman John Sargent Pillsbury, had just been elected for his first of three terms as Minnesota’s governor.

This gown, worn by Mrs. Pillsbury at one of her husband’s inaugurations, most likely that first one, came to Hennepin History Museum many decades later after being carefully packed away and preserved by family members as a memento of the occasion.

mahalafisk

Mrs. Pillsbury. Hennepin History Museum collection. Chalk on paper.

A founding member and president of the Stevens Square home for elderly women and children, Mahala Fisk Pillsbury was a formidable force in the world of Minneapolis social services and public welfare. She was equally at home wearing a ballgown in her role as the governor’s wife or with her shirt sleeves rolled up as an active participant in the activities of the social services organizations that she founded.

You can see the gown now at Hennepin History Museum, where it is a centerpiece of Behind the Ballot Box, an exhibit exploring election on the 1st floor. The exhibit is open now through February 5.

Humphrey for Mayor

If you’ve lived in the Twin Cities for long – or even if you’ve just passed through the MSP airport frequently – you’re likely aware of our local Humphrey connections. Those not originally from here are more likely to associate Hubert H. Humphrey with his position as Vice President of the United States under Lyndon B. Johnson, or with his 1968 presidential run, but here in Hennepin County he also left his mark as, among other things, mayor of Minneapolis.

Humphrey’s first run at mayor, in 1943, proved unsuccessful,  but he regrouped and won the office in 1945. He served as mayor until 1948, at which point he launched his political career into national politics when he successfully ran for a U.S. Senate seat.

This piece of political ephemera documents those Minneapolis mayor days. And what good is any campaign without a song? If you want to sing along but aren’t familiar with that Irish song, “Harrigan, That’s Me!” you can find an online version here.  Warning: it’s a catchy tune (ideal for any campaign, of course), so don’t blame us if you find yourself humming a little H-U-MPH-REY for the rest of the day.