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Historic church was host to little-known speech by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois

By: CHRIS OLWELL
DCN REPORTER

Saint Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal Church on N. Fifth Ave. is a charming church with a rich history. It’s Duluth’s oldest black church. The building is on the National Register for Historic Places.

In March of 1921 it was host to Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois’ speech commemorating the organization of the Duluth chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The lynching of three young African-Americans in downtown Duluth in June of 1920 was considered to be one of the most heinous hate-crimes in America in a year that saw plenty of racially motivated violence against blacks, according to Duluth Lynching Online Resource.

The lynching provided the impetus for the founding of the city’s local chapter of the NAACP. By September of that year the NAACP was up and running in Duluth, and March of 1921 saw the new organization host its first speaker, Du Bois.

In the 86 years that followed, almost all memory of the visit and speech of one of the 19th century’s leading civil rights activists has been washed away like hillside topsoil in a flash flood. Apparently only fragments of the speech have been preserved.

“I know of no transcription of that speech in its entirety or full account of Du Bois' stay in Duluth,? said Du Bois expert and associate professor of philosophy at Hunter College in New York City Dr. Frank Kirkand in an email. “I am surprised there is not much of a [local] record of Du Bois' visit given those traumatic events at that time.?

Claudie Washington, President of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP also doesn’t know much about Du Bois’ visit to Duluth.

He did say that former Gov. Jacob Aall Ottesen Preus and Roy Wilkins attended Du Bois’ speech, but this could not be verified.

Duluth lost another potential source of information on Du Bois’ visit in 2004 when the pastor of Saint Mark’s, the Rev. Arthur Foy, was killed in a car accident, Washington said. “The minister knew more about it.?

The Duluth Herald reported the day after the speech that Du Bois addressed “a large audience, many of the white race,? and that his speech concerned the effects of U.S. policy on race relations around the world.

If he did speak about the infamous lynching of three innocent black men the summer before, presumably the reason for his invitation from the NAACP and his visit to the city, it was not noted in the Herald’s report.

“It’s not the only piece of black history in Duluth that nobody knows about, either,? said Washington.

Comments

The Ripsaw may have published something about the event, but since you don't include the date, who knows.

The UMD Historical Newspaper Archives are supposed to have some early Rip-Saw back issues, I believe.