Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865-1912

Spanning the half-century after the Civil War, Degrees of Freedom draws a rare picture of black experience in a northern state and of the nature of black discontent and action within a predominantly white, ostensibly progressive society. Green reveals little-known historical characters among the black men and women who moved to Minnesota following the Fifteenth Amendment and delves into the delicate balance of power between black activists and our progressive white society. Within this absorbing, often surprising, narrative we meet “ordinary” citizens, like former slave and early settler Jim Thompson and black barbers catering to a white clientele, but also personages of national stature, such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois, all of whom championed civil rights in Minnesota. And we see how, in a state where racial prejudice and oppression wore a liberal mask, black settlers and entrepreneurs, politicians, and activists maneuvered within a restricted political arena to bring about real and lasting change.

A professor of history at Augsburg College and the former superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, William D. Green is also the author of A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota, 1837-1869. He has published many pieces on history and law, including work in Minnesota History and The Journal of Law and Politics, as well as editorials in the Star Tribune.

Green was honored on Saturday, April 16, at the 28th annual Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony at Saint Paul’s Union Depot. Awards were also be presented in eight book categories, as well as the annual Book Artist Award and Kay Sexton Award.