Untold Stories

untold-thumb-15In celebration of labor history month each May, the Untold Stories series presents programs and talks on both local and national labor history topics. Past programs in the series have featured historian Robin D.G. Kelley, singer Larry Long, author Cheri Register, and walking tours by local historian Dave Riehle. The series received the 2003 John Sessions Memorial Award from the American Library Association for service to the labor community.

2015 Events

Playing at Work

Tuesday, April 28, 7 p.m.
Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave.

As recent lockouts at Twin Cities’ orchestras made clear, professional musicians are workers, too. Tonight’s program gives a glimpse of what it’s like to earn a living as a musician today – the training; the artistic and personal goals and challenges; the business side of the profession; and how the local lockouts reflect larger trends. Presenters include: Julie Ayer, author of More Than Meets the Ear: How Symphony Musicians Made Labor History; Todd Harper, a music teacher in the St. Paul Public Schools; Catherine Schubilske, a violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra; and Leslie Shank, a retired violinist from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and now a visiting professor in the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Running the Rails: Stories of African American Railroad Workers – Film and Discussion

Thursday, April 30, 7 p.m.
Rondo Community Outreach Library, 461 North Dale St.

Watch the short film “Running the Rails: Stories of African American Railroad Workers,” produced by Model Cities, followed by a panel discussion on African American history and working life in Saint Paul. “Running the Rails” tells the story of local railroad workers who served as Sleeping Car porters, Red Cap porters, Dining Car waiters, cooks, and maids. Not only did they occupy a central place in both African American protest politics and community building, they laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement.

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Walt Bachman: How the Army Brought Slave Labor to Minnesota

Monday, May 4, 7 p.m.
Hamline Midway Library, 1558 W. Minnehaha Ave.

Historian Walt Bachman discusses his recent book Northern Slave, Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey. He delves into the U.S. Army’s role in bringing slavery to Minnesota, through the story of Godfrey, who was the state’s only home-grown fugitive slave. Bachman was a trial lawyer for 22 years in Minnesota and is the author of Law v. Life, a book about the realities of the modern legal profession.  For the past 10 years, he has researched and written about Minnesota and U.S. army history.

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The People’s Music: Jazz in St. Paul

Monday, May 11, 6:30 p.m. Reception (sponsored by Labor Education Service), 7 p.m. Program
Penumbra Theatre, 270 N. Kent St.

Saint Paul has been a hotbed of a uniquely American music – jazz. Born in the Mississippi Delta and the City of New Orleans, it literally came up river and took hold here. Learn how Saint Paul has nurtured jazz music and culture over the last century and explore this history through live performances. This program features The Tommy Robinson Trio; the Capitol Hill Jazz Band from Capitol Hill Junior High in Saint Paul; and student musicians from Roseville High School.

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Immigration & Migration in the Making of Saint Paul

Wednesday, May 13, 7 p.m.
East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier St.

Join a panel of historians to explore the making of Saint Paul through various early immigrant groups. Panelists include Paul Nelson on “African Americans and the Struggle for Civil Rights in the Early 20th Century”; John Sielaff on “Swedish and Czech Immigrant Workers and the Building of the State Capitol”; and Mary Wingerd on “How Irish Was Saint Paul?”.

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Dakota River Tour with Colette Hyman

Sunday, May 17, 2 p.m.
Padelford Riverboats

Take a scenic tour along the Mississippi in the Jonathan Padelford Riverboat, viewing sites important to the Dakota people, including the Indian Mounds and Pike Island. On the way, hear from writer and historian Dr. Colette Hyman, who discusses her recent book, Dakota Women’s Work: Creativity, Culture, and Exile. Online reservations are required as space is limited, and are now open.

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History, Memory, and Forgetting: Minnesota’s Métis and French Canadians

Tuesday, May 19, 7 p.m.
Rice Street Library, 1011 Rice Street

Virgil Benoit, Professor of French at the University of North Dakota, will introduce the audience to Métis and French-Canadian presence in Minnesota from 1800 on based on historical dates and the events that surrounded them, illustrating the process of how history and memory work to construct identity within social frameworks. His talk will include events such as the fur trade, examples of how the Métis came to be, the creation of Minnesota’s iconic Etoile du Nord, and the subsequent watershed and spattering of French, French-Canadian, and Métis identity from Saint Paul to the Red River Valley and beyond.

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2014 Events

Dispossession: Discrimination Against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights.Pete Daniel – “Dispossession”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Minnesota History Center, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd.

Pete Daniel, a past president of the Organization of American Historians and a retired curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, kicks off the 16th annual Untold Stories Labor History series. Daniel will speak about his recent book Dispossession: Discrimination Against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights.


Between 1940 and 1974, the number of African American farmers fell from 681,790 to just 45,594—a drop of 93 percent. In this hard-hitting book, Daniel analyzes this decline and chronicles black farmers’ fierce struggles to remain on the land in the face of discrimination by bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After Daniel’s presentation, Pakou Hang from the Hmong American Farmers Association, and Dale Wiehoff from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, will talk about current struggles of small farmers to keep their land.

Co-sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.




From Low Wage to Middle Class?

Monday, April 28, 2014
St. Paul Labor Centre, 411 Main St.

low-to-middleWorkers in retail, home care, warehousing, the restaurant industry, and other parts of the modern economy are only the latest in a long line of employees rising up to claim that “working” and “poor” should never be in the same sentence. Tonight’s program examines how today’s workers are fighting to make a living in their service-sector jobs. It also shows how fields such as nursing and teaching turned their professions from low-wage jobs into middle-class careers.

The panel includes representatives from the Department of Employment and Economic Development, Working America, Child Care Providers Together, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, and the Minnesota Nurses Association.


Bdote Memory Map

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Rondo Community Outreach Library, 461 N. Dale St.

bdoteMona Smith – a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota storyteller and media artist – discusses her creation of a “memory map” of the bdote area of the Mississippi and the Minnesota Rivers. This bdote (a place where two waters come together) is central to Dakota spirituality and history. Her online map contains a series of sites that have special meaning to the Dakota people.



Central Corridor – Closing the Circle

Saturday, May 3, 2014
Union Depot, 214 4th St.

Ride the bus touring the Central Corridor, University Avenue, the vital link between St. Paul and Minneapolis then and now. Travel with rail and transit veterans Phil Epstein and Dave Riehle, and bus driver Diane Ruud as they take you to lost and forgotten places and routes, exploring the history of mass transit, architecture, commerce, and the communities central to this re-engineered corridor.

Please call The Friends at 651-222-3242 to reserve your seat on the bus, as space is limited. (Bus is ADA-compliant)


Film Screening:

“Whiteness in Plain View”

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave.

Join author, professor and filmmaker Chad Montrie for an introduction to his new documentary project, “Whiteness in Plain View,” about racial exclusion in American towns and suburbs. He uses Edina and Austin, Minnesota as case studies, describing the circumstances of labor, housing, and race for African Americans. Following this film segment, Montrie discusses his research into the historical, legal, customary, and traditional practices among organized labor and business owners invested in keeping suburbs and towns all-white throughout most of the twentieth century.

A Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, in the past decade Montrie has published three books, including A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States.

Whiteness in Plain View – Sample Reel


Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights

Monday, May 12, 2014
Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church, 585 Fuller Ave.

marchThe successes of the civil rights movement, including passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, were built on sustained grassroots organizing linked to Black trade unions, women’s groups, and churches across the country. University of Wisconsin Professor William P. Jones offers insight into the people who undertook this struggle in his book, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights. His presentation will be complemented by music and related readings on race, class, and work.


Why Not St. Paul?
The 1934 Teamsters’ Strike

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave.

strikeOn the 80th anniversary of the 1934 Teamsters’ strikes in Minneapolis, historian Mary Lethert Wingerd will explore how different politics and labor relations in Saint Paul meant the bloody battle did not spread to the other side of the river, and what that suggests about class relations in the Capital City. She is the author of Claiming the City: Politics, Faith, and the Power of Place in Saint Paul and the Minnesota Book Award-winning North Country: the Making of Minnesota, as well as the introduction to the new edition of Charles R. Walker’s American City: A Rank-and-File History.

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mapeUntold Stories is coordinated by The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit thefriends.org or call 651-222-3242. Co-sponsors include AFSCME Council 5, Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church, East Side Freedom Library, Hmong American Farmers Association, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Metropolitan State University Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship, Micawber’s Books, Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, Minnesota Historical Society, Ramsey County Historical Society, Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation, Twin Cities Labor History Society, and the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service. This series is supported by an endowment created with grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation, as well as a gift from the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees Women’s Committee.

Cover image: “The St. Paul Labor Movement, Flowing out of Us,” Artists: Ta-Coumba Aiken, Keith Christensen.MHS