The following is an excerpt from the Star Tribune by Ian Larson.
Black history month may be over, but local historians say Minnesotans shouldn't forget about it until next February.
African-Americans are Minnesota's most numerous minority -- nearly 280,000 live in Minnesota -- but the Land of 10,000 Lakes doesn't have a single operating black history museum.
If history buffs have their way and raise enough money, Minneapolis will have two, with the first perhaps opening as early as next year.
Roxanne Givens first saw the for-sale sign on the Amos Coe mansion when she got lost driving in south-central Minneapolis two years ago. "It screamed 'Museum!'" she said.
Within six months, Givens had ignited an effort to transform the 130-year-old mansion into a place to showcase the little-known history of black Minnesotans.
Now, as renovations continue and museum organizers plan exhibits, they say the Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center (MAAM), is primed to make a statement about Minnesota's history, with an opening planned for next February.
"It's our way of saying black history is going to be 365 days a year, so that it's not just one month," Givens said.
Organizers intend for it to be filled with interactive displays and artifacts, such as records from the 17 black families who helped establish Edina, and clothing worn by George Bonga, believed to have been the first black man born in the Minnesota Territory.
The group also is creating a video exhibit from Twin Cities Public Television's "North Star" series about the state's black pioneers. And they envision having interactive tools like the Apple iPad to display extra information and illustrate artifacts not in the collection, said Sharon Kennedy Vickers, who is planning the exhibits.
The Legislature has included $840,000 for the project in the state's bonding bill, but it's not certain the money will survive cost-cutting procedures by the Legislature or governor.
State Rep. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said cutting the money would be a shame. "In my mind, this is a priority, and it should be at the top of the list," Champion said, noting the museum would employ people and attract tourists.
Even with state money, the group would be short of its $5 million fundraising goal. It hopes to ultimately close the gap through donations.
Civil rights scenes
Leola Seals isn't as far along with her museum plans as Givens' group is, but she has a long-held vision.
A former Minneapolis NAACP president, Seals has toured the state with civil rights exhibits since 1996, but she's wanted to move her exhibits out of storage and into a permanent site.
Bad health in recent years kept her from realizing that vision, but now she wants to jump-start her museum by asking the Legislature for seed money.
"I think there's enough history to have 10 African-American museums in the state of Minnesota," she said.
Seals doesn't have a location yet, but she can already imagine her African American Historical & Civil Rights Museum filled with life-sized scenes exemplifying the civil rights movement. Those would include a mock-up of a "whites-only" diner and a cutaway of a bus like the one in which Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat.
"What's appealing to the mind and what's appealing to the heart is the real, true history of African-Americans," she said.
Michael Chaney, who organizes local Juneteenth celebrations, said the museums would show the diversity of Minnesota's black history.
"Clearly there is some distinction between their visions," he said. "But in many respects, they are certainly driving down the same road."