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Professor examines Minnesota’s ties to slaveholder wealth

An AP Member Exchange shared by the St. Cloud Times

ST. CLOUD (AP) — After years of researching censuses, archives and newspapers, a St. Cloud State University professor has published a book examining the ways slaveholders invested in Minnesota communities, including St. Cloud’s.

“Slavery’s Reach: Southern Slaveholders and the North Star State,” written by Christopher Lehman, a professor of ethnic studies, stemmed from Lehman’s discovery that a man who lived in St. Paul in 1860 had also been listed on the census as a slave owner in Maryland that same year.

Lehman learned tourism was a big business in Minnesota, he said, and slaveholders from states such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri came to Minnesota and bought real estate. They would either leave right away or stay for a vacation and then go back to the south.

“Minnesota is very complicit in the history of slavery,” Lehman told the St. Cloud Times in interview. “There are several communities that arguably would not exist if it weren’t for slavery.”

St. Cloud is one of those communities

One of those communities is St. Cloud, Lehman said, where Sylvanus Lowry –the first mayor of St. Cloud — decided to buy a northern third of the city. Lowry invited slaveholders to purchase land from him and received more than $12,000 in land sales.

With the money he made from selling land, Lowry was able to “essentially start the business community of St. Cloud,” Lehman said. Butler Park also commemorates two enslaved people, Mary and her son John, who were brought to St. Cloud through Lowry’s connections. They are believed to be the city’s first African American residents.

But St. Cloud is only one of the communities in Minnesota touched by slaveholders’ wealth.

Slavery’s influence in Minnesota also led Minnesotans to introduce bills in the Legislature, after the territory became a free state in 1858, in an attempt to make slavery legal during tourism months. Those bills did not pass.

“African American slaves did not have to be present within Minnesota’s borders in order for the capital from their labor to be really important to Minnesota’s economy,” Lehman said.

Lehman’s research followed Minnesota’s ties from before statehood until the Civil War.

Since the book’s publication, Lehman has participated in author events and guest lectures about slavery’s ties to the state.

“I think that it’s important to know about where the money comes from, so that there’s a fuller and more complicated understanding about Minnesota,” Lehman said.

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