Hennepin Gallery exhibit highlights MSR’s 85 years

Courtesy of the City of Mpls

The enduring power and legacy of the Black Press will take center stage at a new exhibit entitled, “Minnesota-Spokesman Recorder: Celebrating 85 Years.” The exhibit, part of the City’s celebration of Black History Month, will feature artifacts from the paper and a large collection of photographs that evoke a rich tableau of Black life in the Twin Cities that spans decades.

“The exhibit came about as a result of our wanting to celebrate Black history,” recalled Velma Korbel, Minneapolis Civil Rights director and executive sponsor for the Minneapolis Black Employee Network (MBEN). “We had recommendations of several different kinds of exhibits, but it was on the recommendation of Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins—the Spokesman-Recorder is in her [Eighth] Ward—she suggested that there was an iconic Black legacy business, and really a treasure to the community, that was celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. She thought it might provide some good subject matter and present a good opportunity to educate the public about the paper.” 

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) is the state’s oldest surviving Black newspaper, founded in 1934 by Cecil E. Newman.  The exhibit will be on display from January 31 to February 23 at the Hennepin Gallery, located in the public walkway between the Hennepin County Government Center and Minneapolis City Hall in downtown Minneapolis. 

Mining the paper’s 85 years of publications and artifacts was no easy feat. The challenge was met through a partnership between the MBEN and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Mia). Desralynn Cole, a member of MBEN who works for the City’s Race and Equity Division, and Donald Thompson of Mia, were tasked with unearthing items from the MSR’s extensive archives.

“We are creating an exhibit that I think will be really nice,” continued Korbel. “One of the things that we are planning on doing is, the Spokesman-Recorder team has put together these collages of photographs, and one of the things we’re really excited about is, we don’t know all the people in the pictures, so we’re going to number these panels. To make this exhibit more interactive, we’re going to ask the people who are coming to view the exhibit to help us identify some of the people in the photographs. 

Courtesy of MSR

“We’ll have cards nearby where people can identify who a person might be, and we’ll provide that info back to the paper at some point,” said Korbel.

In conjunction with the exhibit, MSR Publisher/CEO Tracey Williams-Dillard was selected by the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights as one of six “2020 History Maker at Home” honorees. The profile series recognizes African American leaders from around the state who embody the department’s ideals of advancing civil rights and removing barriers to equity in the fields of criminal justice, education, economic development, health, housing, government, and more. Each honoree will be celebrated throughout Black History Month in February with an evening of remarks, live entertainment and light refreshments. 

The accolades couldn’t have come at a better time, said Williams-Dillard. “I feel honored and very excited,” she said. “I mean, we’re celebrating our 85th anniversary and having the building listed as a local historical destination, having my grandmother’s name recognized on Fourth Avenue as Launa Q. Newman Way, and now getting this award and also the paper being recognized in City Hall—it’s overwhelming. It warms my heart. I want to thank the City and Andrea Jenkins, specifically, for all the support and work to highlight and strengthen the 38th Street Corridor.

“I know that if my grandmother and grandfather were still here they’d be elated to see how the paper’s moving and the recognition we’re getting as a result of the work we do.”

Asked what she hopes people take away from the exhibit, Korbel said, “I hope people really get to know about this treasure that’s right in the heart of the community. I hope that they will be able to see an evolution of the narrative of Black people over the 85 years that the Spokesman-Recorder has existed. And I hope it will be fun for them to get a glimpse into what the past looked like against the present. 

“One of the things I am noticing as we go through the archives is that the Black experience is the American experience,” continued Korbel. “We see Black women doing the tea parties and bowling from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. Black people engage in a life that I think a lot of people outside of the Black community just never think about. We raise our family, we love our kids, we work and we play, the same as any other culture.

Courtesy of the City of Mpls.

“This newspaper has captured that culture for the past 85 years and I hope we are able to do the paper justice but also do the community justice.”

“The Minnesota-Spokesman Recorder: Celebrating 85 Years” exhibit will be on display from Jan. 31 to Feb. 28 at the Hennepin Gallery, located at the A-level Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street in Minneapolis. Exhibit hours are Mon.-Fri., 7:30 am to 6 pm. The gallery is free and open to the public. For more info, visit www.hennepin.us/hennepingallery.

The “2020 History Maker at Home” recognition ceremony with Tracey Williams-Dillard as the keynote speaker will take place on Feb. 13 at Minneapolis City Hall Rotunda, located at 350 S. 5th St. in Minneapolis. An additional event honoring all of this year’s recipients is scheduled for noon on Feb. 20 at Minneapolis City Hall.

Both events are open to the public and community members are encouraged to attend. For a complete list of this year’s honorees and more info, visit www.minneapolismn.gov/civilrights.