If frustration with Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist or gradualist approach to attacking racism resulted in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the strategy failed in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Anyone familiar with St. Cloud’s (“white Cloud’s”) history knows effective but infrequent punishments for racism were imposed before Somali students became active and defiant. (“Somali students protest, walkout of St. Cloud high schools;” Star Tribune, March 19, 2015)
Although restrained, the most aggressive St. Cloud NAACP founding member was Tod Ewing (1983). Ewing was a St. Cloud State University (SCSU) graduate, later employee, who confronted maltreatment of Black students. Assumptions were a local NAACP could challenge racism without angering city government. Frustrated by NAACP cowering and racism carefully ignored by City Hall and SCSU, Ewing resigned. (“Minority programs chief to leave SCSU position;” St. Cloud Daily Times, September 2, 1985)
Unfortunately, St. Cloud’s NAACP remains a conscientious objector in the war against local racism. Blacks dissatisfied with local racism fear retaliation. Somalis must defend and represent themselves. Among St. Cloud’s 85 percent White NAACP members, most passively oppose racism but also fear local Whites. (“NAACP pursues warmer welcome;” St. Cloud Times, December 31, 1994).
According to the NAACP’s name, Somalis qualify as “colored people” regardless of religious affiliation. Ex-NAACP president and prior Marine Corps sergeant, Leroy Hill, was the only branch member brave or concerned enough to defend targeted Somalis. (“SASSO/Somali community organization building firebombed,” St. Cloud Times, November, 17, 2002.
Beyond Ewing and Hill, “White Cloud’s” NAACP has been historically ruled by City Hall, local police chiefs and SCSU presidents. Responding to complaints of dereliction of duty by St. Cloud’s NAACP from two Black SCSU faculty members, late National Board Chairman Julian Bond wrote, “Because of a Minnesota family connection, I have periodically heard or read about racial and other issues in your community.” After Regional Director Gill Ford criticized St. Cloud’s NAACP impotence, several pouting and scared members resigned saying they were “only volunteers.”
Recently St. Cloud’s NAACP thrilled City Hall, insecure Whites, local politicians and SCSU’s late president by presiding over “conversations” among groups of color. People of color arguing among themselves helps Whites avoid guilt via the diversionary “hierarchy of oppression.” (“Finally, a great conversation on race;” St. Cloud Times, October 24, 2015; “Locals brainstorm to build community;” St. Cloud Times, January 4, 2016)
St. Cloud’s passive NAACP requires an aggressive leader like Nekima Levy-Pounds, University of St. Thomas law professor and Minneapolis NAACP President. Levy-Pounds, or someone similar, would immediately attract Black residents and students. They would join action-oriented Somali students in forcing racial changes opposed by Whites clinging desperately to propaganda-fueled dreams of superiority. (“Activist Levy-Pounds hopes young people energize NAACP;” Minnesota Public Radio, May 1, 2015)
The Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage provides another critical ally following the effectively threatening Lester Collins leadership of the earlier Council on Black Minnesotans.
Myrle Cooper is retired from SCSU but continues to closely monitor racism and expose a community resisting change. He welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.