The need for a new Lillian Anthony


First director of Minneapolis Civil Rights Department

 This column provides a timeline to further understand our discussion of the failure of the Civil Rights Department and Commission, including that of current director, Velma Korbel (hence our call last week for her dismissal). We forget these dates and events at our peril:

• June 30, 1963: Mayor Arthur Naftalin, in his Second State of the City address, warned about issues of racial division ripping the city (Minneapolis Star, July 1, 1963). Fifty-one years later they still hold. Mayor Naftalin offered a “Blueprint for Action,” and called for institutions and instruments for the social justice, for a Civil Rights Department and Commission.

• July 18, 1965, “Is non-violence wearing thin?” Minneapolis Tribune headline.

• August 1967: creation of the Civil Rights Department and Commission, on which I was a member. Lillian Anthony became the first Director. A nationally known civil rights administrator, Lillian Anthony quickly addressed the race discrimination issues of the day. The new incoming chairman of the Civil Rights Commission, the Rev. Dennis Nyberg, pastor of Lake Harriet Methodist Church, declared his commitment to address the issues raised by Mayor Naftalin, echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., that we can’t wait any longer.

• Nineteen sixty-seven: urban riots, mostly inner cities.

• April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated.

• Summer 1968: 110 American Cities were in flames, including Minneapolis. National Guard called out.

• August 21, 1969, “Tired of being angry, hostile” headline in The Minnesota Daily. Lillian Anthony resigns, responding to new Mayor Charles Stenvig, who opposed the Department and Commission, “I am tired of…dealing with the hostilities of White racism, I have found it difficult to teach those who are paternalistic, racist, bigots or liberals much of anything about justice and equality.”

• October 3, 1969, Evans and Novak, national columnists: New “law and order” Mayor Charles Stenvig, appointed “mild-mannered middle-class Negro Robert E. Benford” to replace Lillian Anthony. Benford said “that the question of race is far down on the list of priorities for his new job. The first priority, he said, is to see that all citizens are treated like Americans.”

• In 1987, “Civil Wars Within the Racial Community and the City of Minneapolis,” City Pages headline.

• January 1990 cover story of Mpls/St.Paul Magazine: “‘Nice’ Minnesotans don’t talk about it, but the ugly fact is that racism is alive — and growing in the Twin Cities.”

• June 10-24, 1990, 25-day Star Tribune series, Issues of Race: “reflecting malice, insensitivity,…racism.”

• March 2003 — 2014: the investigative journalism of these columns reports weekly on how the order of the day is to still embrace the nullification and reversal of Arthur Naftalin’s vision.

That vision has been undermined by Velma Korbel, certain predecessors, and those who support ongoing violations of the civil rights philosophy we have long fought to follow, to make a difference by working for social justice.

We still need a museum for remembrance, as has opened recently in Atlanta. If the history of our struggle is not remembered, it didn’t exist. If it is not understood, it won’t end. As a member of the board of directors of the Association of African American Museums recently stated, “We’re going backward, not forward with the civil rights movement… The whole future of this country is for different communities who care about social justice to get together, and work together.”

Let’s make a positive difference in education, jobs, and housing. Remember the question above: “Is nonviolence wearing thin?” Nonviolence wears thin when the cause of social justice has worn even thinner.

Stay tuned.

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