A Sports Authority chair who understands the Black struggle


 Kelm-Helgen’s civil rights history is a rich one

There are names and families that remain strong in the pantheon of the civil rights struggle for freedom and liberty for all in Minnesota, including such names as Newman, Johnson, Humphrey and Childress.

Governor Dayton’s June 15, 2012 announcement of his three Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority members reminds us of another name and family of the Minnesota Civil Rights Pantheon, that of Elmer Kelm. The governor has appointed Elmer Kelm’s granddaughter, Michele Kelm-Helgen, as Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair (Star Tribune, “New stadium head has deep political roots,” June 16, 2012).

Michele Kelm-Helgen’s grandfather, Elmer Kelm, managed Hubert Humphrey’s first successful mayoral campaign, was chairman of the Democratic Party when it merged with the Farmer Labor Party in 1944, and had a very long relationship with both Cecil Newman, the founder and publisher of this newspaper, and with Nellie Stone Johnson, one of the great political leaders in the history of this state.

Elmer Kelm and Nellie Stone Johnson, with Hubert H. Humphrey’s blessing, were two of the signatories of the Farmer Labor Party/Democratic merger in 1944.

Along with encouragement from Minnesota millionaire and longtime political activist Charles Horn, this group of Minnesotans became quite an item for the fight for civil rights in Minnesota. This group of African Americans and Tom Kelm and Charles Horn helped groom a bright new political star by the name of Wendell Anderson.

They became a powerful trio helping Anderson to become governor of the State of Minnesota, and later U.S. Senator, and were all active in the fight for full inclusion of African Americans within the Minnesota political arena, championing a place at the table for all groups fighting for full participation and opportunity to enjoy the wealth and finances of a progressive and liberal Minnesota.

I still remember another tremendous effort of this hard-hitting and committed group, involved and on task to elect the late Elmer Childress to the office of Minnesota Secretary of State.

Kelm, Johnson, Humphrey, Newman, Anderson, Childress and now Kelm-Helgen: great civil rights pedigrees. Through the veins of these individuals flows the understanding of the importance of inclusion of all. With the power that has been invested in Sports Facility Authority Chair Kelm Helgen, and given the rich history of involvement of her family, we find a person who has deep political roots and vision for full participation and opportunity for all, irrespective of race, creed, color, or national origin.

Michele Kelm-Helgen has seen and been a part of the great struggles to achieve inclusion and full participation in the economic vitality of Minnesota. She will now oversee its exercise with the construction of the largest pubic works project in the history of the state of Minnesota. That is why it is so important that leaders within the African American community bring forth their plan and recommendations for the authority to consider.

The City of Minneapolis is late in submitting drafts of a Master Agreement, including a Stadium Equity Plan (preliminary plans are to be presented to council and appropriate committees no later than June 29, 2012). The least that can be done from our African American community is for a comprehensive plan of expectations and participation, particularly from the organizations named in the stadium legislation, the Urban League and Sabathani.

The provisions of the Stadium Bill called these organizations and leadership to arms. All others who claim to speak for the African American community should submit their recommendations as well. With Kelm-Helgen, we know they will all be well considered by the Sports Authority.

As a Minnesotan with historic ties providing a unique understanding of and commitment to the struggle of the communities of color, especially the African American, as seen in Kelm-Helgen’s longtime conferring with the great civil rights activist, Josie Johnson, we strongly feel that the discussions they had over the last year rekindled the recollection of those historical moments that started 75 years ago and continue to this day, as she continues the legacy of the great Minnesota civil rights names: Kelm, Johnson, Humphrey, Newman, Childress.

She will understand the columns we have written about the Disparity Compliance Studies and the task ahead (www.theminneapolisstory.com/solutionpapers/46DisparityCompliance.html) and how its fits into the overall struggle of liberty encoded in the history of this country’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

We wish Michele Kelm-Helgen success as she faces one of the greatest challenges in the history of Minnesota and its legacy of civil and human rights.

Stay tuned.


Columns referenced above are archived at www.theminneapolisstory.com/tocarchives.htm. Ron Edwards hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm, and hosts Blog Talk Radio’s “Black Focus V” on Sundays, 3-3:30 pm and Thursdays, 7-8:30 pm, providing coverage about Black Minnesota. Order his books at www.BeaconOnTheHill.com. Hear his readings and read his columns, blog, and solution papers for community planning and development, at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.


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