On March 30, 2017, I had the great honor and fortune of moderating one of the few 2017 DFL Minneapolis mayoral candidate forums. When my fellow Law Democrats gave me this responsibility, I took it very seriously. Because this was my first time moderating a political forum, I spent weeks revising my opening remarks, researching the candidates, and thinking about how to distinguish our forum from what I derisively call “soft ball.” If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right, and I’m going to make it count.
In 1993 Minnesota became the eighth state in the nation to outlaw gay and lesbian discrimination in housing, education, and employment. Unlike other states, Minnesota even went further to ensure these same protections extended to members of the trans* community. No easy feat, this was the culmination of two decades of legislative maneuvering and grassroots organizing orchestrated by people like Sen. Allan H. Spear, Rep. Karen Clark, Steve Endean, and Scott Dibble. Twenty years later, when the state legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, the story of the Minnesota Human Rights Act was something seasoned activists knew about but of which my generation was oblivious. For those curious about how such legislation could pass at a time when even advocates felt uneasy using the word “gay,” there was little (if anything) to turn to.
Wanting to learn more about this important moment in state history, in 2013 I applied for a Mondale Research Fellowship from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School. Although my historical interests gravitate toward early-20th century politics, I was inspired to study the life of Allan Spear after reading his autobiography Crossing the Barriers. Published posthumously in 2010, it recounts his childhood, his experience as a gay man, and his careers as both an historian and state senator. Unfortunately, given his passing in 2008, the book was never finished–and even worse, since Spear wrote chronologically, the narrative ends abruptly in the 1980s, years short of his greatest legislative achievements. Although the former-state senator Steve Milton wrote a nice afterward, his was the unenviable (and impossible) task of summarizing the last twenty years of a vibrant life in just as many pages.
When I was awarded the Fellowship, then, I set out not only to produce good scholarship on Minnesota’s LGBT nondiscrimination law, but I also wanted to do Sen. Spear’s life justice. As his colleagues on both sides of the aisle would attest, he was a brilliant, caring man, and someone without whom our state would be lesser.
In doing my research, I relied upon the rich archives available at both the Minnesota Historical Society and UMN Elmer L. Andersen Library. Furthermore, I sat down for several one-on-one interviews with Gov. Arne Carlson, Rep. Karen Clark, Sen. Scott Dibble, and the late historian Hy Berman. It took a while to write (life happens) but my paper “Senator Allan Spear and the Minnesota Human Rights Act” was published in the Fall 2016 issue of Minnesota History magazine. (The magazine’s staff even went so far as to make the video trailer posted above!)
Now that this project is behind me (always a strange feeling), I hope readers find some hope in the story of Sen. Allan Spear’s 20-year campaign to pass an LGBT nondiscrimination bill. Especially in this political environment, it is worth remembering that progress is often incremental and that while setbacks can be disheartening, it does not mean the cause is foolish, hopeless, or dead. It just means that there is more work to be done. While we should pause and reevaluate our course in light of history’s lessons, we must keep pushing forward. The struggle is a part of movement building, and building a movement is one of the most-powerful tools we’ve got to make this world a more compassionate and accepting place.
You can buy a copy of Minnesota History here.
For those who care about such things, in February 2013 there was squabbling in Minnesota over the possibility of there being a state poem. What’d happened is that, upon the recommendation of a constituent, a state senator proposed “Minnesota Blue” by singer-songwriter Keith Haugen. Naturally, this upset the state literati as, besides the fact that Haugen lives in Hawaii, the poem is boring. In fact, to highlight this, I even had a fake debate with Sally Jo Sorenson of Bluestem Prairie where I tried (and struggled) to defend it.
I’ll leave it to the public to decide who won.
Some, like state poet laureate Joyce Sutphen nominated James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” or Robert Bly’s “Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River,” both of which I think would be fine (albeit broody) symbols. I would personally like to see something by Bob Dylan, but I know that when the time comes, it’ll likely be Garrison Keillor who gets it. And I’m OK with that.
As all of this was happening, The City Pages hosted a contest to select an alternative, and I was fortunate enough to make the final four (“Which of your submissions should be our state poem?“). Sadly, I didn’t win, and the world moved on, the whole conversation on there being a state poem fading away. (To be honest, I don’t even know if the state senator’s bill passed).
I’m re-posting here my submission, which I wrote some time in the fall of 2012 after reading Paul Gruchow‘s Grass Roots: The Universe of Home (Milkweed Editions, 1995). I first discovered Gruchow’s work growing up in Montevideo, MN, which is where he was from, and was fond of his Leopold-esque environmental essays. Sadly, I never had a chance to meet him as, in 2004, he committed suicide.
So, we walk only in prose, talk through poems.
Walking with Paul Gruchow
Kind words and best wishes don’t bring rain.
Subsidies won’t end a drought. His spirit,
like the last boots he’ll ever buy, wear
down down down in the dust.
“We never ran from change, but it sure
ran us out,” he says. “There’ll always be
somewhere to farm but there won’t be farmers.”
Footsteps scare out a ring-necked pheasant.
I ask what happened to the Farmer-Laborites,
the community, the culture. I’ve driven more
Interstates than walked desire paths, can
name more skyscrapers than native grasses.
Out on the wind everything I say is carried,
no telling where it’ll end up or what marsh
it’ll sink in. “I try not to dwell on it,” he says,
“or there’s bound to be a revolution.
In March 2013, while writing my undergraduate history thesis on Hubert Humphrey’s role in the 1944 DFL merger, I spoke with University of Minnesota professor emeritus Dr. Hy Berman. As Minnesota’s “unofficial state historian,” I was excited not only to meet him but also discuss his friendship with the former vice president. One topic we spent much time on was Humphrey’s teaching at the University. All uncited quotations come from the transcript of our interview.
In 1969, after having lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey was, for the first time in twenty-four years, a private citizen. Having served as Minneapolis mayor (1945-1948), a U.S. Senator (1949-1965), and vice president (1965-1969), he returned home to Waverly, MN, disappointed but unready to retire. As the dust from the campaign settled, Humphrey was already on the phone with University of Minnesota President Malcolm Moos discussing his return to teaching.
Receiving joint appointments at both the University and Macalester College, the former vice president eased into his new life with several public lectures ranging from national security to the legislative process. As an adjunct professor, in the fall of 1969 he taught his first course, the undergraduate-level “Government and Society,” which a press release described as a “colloquium [that] will cover the whole range of public policy and government and society.” Taught one night a week in Blegen Hall, it was an opportunity for Humphrey to share his decades of experience with the next generation of political leaders — and because of this, students were screened ahead of time, having to meet certain prerequisites.
As the director of the University’s Social Science program, Hy Berman was Humphrey’s “boss” (a title the latter jokingly used even on his deathbed) and in a personal interview recalled some of the surprises this came with. For example, as Humphrey was still the head of the Democratic Party, obligations came up forcing him to miss class. Even so,
[H]e made sure that someone covered his classes and we had a string of people come in to my office. One day [Sen.] Barry Goldwater walks in, unannounced, “I’m here to take Hubert’s class cause he had to go somewhere.” A lot of characters came in whenever he couldn’t make a class, they flew in to take his class and flew right back out.
Humphrey’s wealth of experience aside, some students and faculty were disappointed in his teaching style, feeling as though he was incapable of distancing himself from his subject. As Frank Sorauf recalled, who was the chairman of the University’s Political Science Department at the time, when discussing the legislative process,
You would have thought Hubert Humphrey could have talked in an informative, exciting way about the seniority system, draw on some conclusions. [But h]e rambled personal reminiscences … my dear old friend this one and my dear old friend that one …
This just went on and on and you could just see students’ faces falling. This wasn’t what they wanted (31-32).
With tensions from the 1968 election still high, Humphrey faced hostility from faculty and students upset over President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War. Anger over the vice president’s politics were especially strong in Minnesota as the primary battle pitted him against the DFL Party’s other favorite son: Senator Eugene McCarthy. What many did not understand, though, was that within the administration Humphrey opposed the war and as early as February 1965 suggested Johnson “cut loose.” Yet
because of his kind of political enthusiasm, he had to support the war. He did it in the most enthusiastic way so people thought that he supported the war. And it was a good number of the faculty [who] held that against him. Most of the people in the DFL held that against him. …
Therefore, safety precautions had to be made:
His office on campus was on the second floor of the Social Science Building — a corner office — and the Secret Service was still … protecting him. When they saw his office, they came to me and said, “That’s unacceptable,” because he was in a corner office, isolated. I said, “Well, that’s the biggest office. We’re going to furnish it nicely,” and they said, “We’re very unhappy.”
That evening I went to the hardware store and bought a rope ladder. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I brought it up the next day, went to the Secret Service guys and said, “This will do: Put it down the window and climb out.”
They were concerned the hostility of the students and faculty was so great that they thought he may be in danger.
Fortunately, Humphrey never had to use his rope ladder.
During these two years, the only students who harassed and humiliated him were from Macalester. In fact, the former vice president told a friend that “by the end of that year his stomach muscles were just tensing up whenever he got near the … campus” (Sorauf 31). In contrast, the worst he experienced at the University was a symbolic protest from faculty members.
Still transitioning into his new position, Berman invited Humphrey to attend a meeting of the 39ers Dining Club, an exclusive faculty gathering on campus. But “[A]s soon as I told everyone he was coming, half of the members quit.” In fact, the historian and future state senator Allan Spear accused Berman of giving a “platform to a war criminal” and then “went at it” with the former vice president (Berman 1984 25-26). Still, these antagonisms did not last long:
[S]ome of the most hostile faculty members invited him to a class hoping to catch him in errors and stuff like that. They invited him in with hostility, they came out with admiration. That’s how he won people over.
Humphrey remained at the University for only two years, deciding in 1970 to replace retiring Sen. Eugene McCarthy. He remained in the U.S. Senate until his death in 1978. At that time, in his honor, the University renamed its public administration school the Humphrey Institute (later the Humphrey School of Public Affairs). Interestingly, this is where his successor and fellow vice president Walter Mondale teaches today.
Berman, Hyman; Chambers, Clarke A.. (1984). Interview with Hyman Berman. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://purl.umn.edu/48992.
Berman, Hyman; Preston, Joshua P. (2013). Interview with Hyman Berman. Unpublished Transcript.
Sorauf, Frank J.; Chambers, Clarke A.. (1984). Interview with Frank Sorauf. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://purl.umn.edu/50623.
University of Minnesota News Service. (1969). Press Releases, July – September 1969. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://purl.umn.edu/51860.
This is a follow-up to a previous article called, “Digital Humanities: Newspaper Mentions of Four MN Governors” and this short note on John Lind serves two purposes. The first is practical, the other political. (And yes, all history is political).
First, there are few easily-accessible resources discussing Lind’s politics. While I love MNopedia (hire me!), both it and his Wikipedia page are too general. This article is not meant to be a doctoral thesis, but it is a little bulkier. Hopefully, some young scholar will be inspired to do their own research and publish the first Lind biography in nearly 80 years.
Second, as Orwell said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Having served on a Texas textbook review panel, I’ve seen firsthand historical revisionism. I’ve seen Tea Party rhetoric creep into how we write about the past: The framing that government has always been an unnecessary evil, taxes an infringement upon liberty. Yet, when it comes to workers and women’s rights, public education, the social safety net — all the things that allow people to live with dignity — these were not gifts of the free market or God but rather the product of struggle. These came from grassroots organizing. These came from rising up against power. It came from the notion that a government of the people could be proactive and a force for good. Minnesota is full of such stories, and it’s about time we’ve heard them.
Minnesota’s Only Populist Governor
John Lind (1854-1930)
A New Ulm teacher and lawyer, John Lind was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (MN 2nd District) in 1886, serving as a Republican until retiring in 1893. Around this time, as discontent brewed and farmers organized around a third-party alternative, Lind left the Republican Party and in 1896 supported the presidential candidacy of Democratic-Populist William Jennings Bryan. That same year he ran for governor and though a “political orphan” (Helmes 91) was endorsed by “the allied forces” of the Democratic, Populist, and Silver Republican Parties.
In a one-party state that had not elected a Democratic governor in thirty-six years, Lind narrowly lost by 3,552 votes against incumbent David M. Clough. As governors served only two-year terms, “Honest John” (as he was known to the electorate) tried again in 1898. Although the Populist movement was in decline, the political winds in Minnesota had shifted. Famously, Clough, who was not seeking a third term, saw the momentum behind Lind and reportedly exclaimed, “Thank God I am not a candidate.”
Central to Lind’s 1898 gubernatorial campaign were conventional Populist issues such as the tax burden and railroad trusts, but so too was the Spanish-American War, which lasted from April to August of that year. The fact that Lind enlisted to serve was used to his advantage, causing the Democratic chairman to remark that “Lind fighting abroad is 10,000 votes stronger than [him] on the stump.” Becoming disillusioned with the war, as jingoism crept into his opponent’s campaign, Lind praised his allies for not permitting “the shimmer of a proposed imperial policy in distant lands to blind the eyes of the people to existing abuses at home.” On Election Day, Lind became the first candidate in a decade to win a majority of the popular vote (52.2%).
In an hour-and-a-half-long inaugural address to the legislature, Lind focused on what he saw as an antiquated tax system. Unapologetic in his defense of the services provided through taxation, he observed that the current system targeted only “visible goods” — such as tools and implements. As these were the only means of subsistence for people struggling “to support themselves … thousands who possess great wealth escape” (Lind 4-5). Though not intending to wage a war against the rich, this imbalance in the tax burden was “a condition resulting from the new forms that wealth has assumed under the remarkable progress and the economic changes which have taken place in this century” (Lind 5).
In the early days of the Republic … Wealth meant houses, lands, implements and cattle. Franchises, bonds, stocks and securities were practically unknown. Today they constitute … perhaps eighty per cent of personalty wealth. As a rule, they escape taxation, not because they are the property of the rich, but because the assessor cannot get his eyes on them. (Lind 5)
He went on further to advocate an increase in a tax on corporations and the gross earnings of railroads that would make Minnesota more comparable to its “sister states” like Wisconsin and Illinois. Lind wanted to build roads and mental health hospitals, fund public schools, and support struggling farmers. These were moral ends to him as he declared proudly: “increased taxation and higher civilization go hand in hand” (Lind 6).
Although limited in what he could accomplish, facing a Republican-controlled legislature, in Lind the Progressive Era officially began in Minnesota. The changing landscape of the state as it neared the twentieth century brought to light the economic and social tensions of the Industrial Revolution (the same tensions that inspired the Populist movement). As historian Theodore Blegen wrote,
Lind symbolized transition in viewpoint as the state stood on the threshold of the new century. … Significant beginnings had been made in frontier days; social needs of modern character had been foreshadowed; and some forward steps had been taken. …. [Lind and his successors] realized that they were dealing with a state shifting from an agricultural to an industrialized stage (434).
Lind’s tenure as governor was brief as, in 1900, he lost reelection. Yet, for a state that gave 65,000 more votes to Republican President William McKinley than his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, the gubernatorial results were less decisive. Former state Speaker of the House Samuel Van Sant won by only 2,254 votes, and this was only after 15-20,000 votes for Lind were invalidated for errors. Yet, as state senator (and future governor) John A. Johnson said of Lind at that year’s State Democratic Convention:
“He is the only man who has stood on the threshold of the governor’s office of this state, like Horatius on the bridge, with the people on one side and the greedy corporations on the other, and protected with all his strength the people from the corporations’ greed” (Helmes 104).
Thereafter, Lind returned to law practice and, two years later, was reelected to the U.S. House of Representatives (5th District), serving from 1903 to 1905. In 1908 he again campaigned for Bryan and was appointed by Governor Johnson to the University of Minnesota’s board of regents where he served as chairman until 1914. His last stint in government grew from his longstanding relationship to Bryan who, by 1913, was President Wilson’s Secretary of State.
As the Mexican Revolution roared on the nation’s southern border, following a recent military coup, Lind was appointed an emissary to Mexico. Tasked with delivering treaty terms to Victoriano Huerta, Mexico’s new president, it was obvious President Wilson “was concerned more with general competence and trustworthiness than with special qualifications” as Lind neither spoke Spanish nor understood the politics of the country (Cumberland 97). Sadly, given both Wilson’s disdain for Huerta and the country’s volatility, the “mission was doomed to failure before he ever arrived in Mexico” (Cumberland 97).
When the United States entered World War One in 1917, which led to the resignation of Secretary Bryan but Lind reluctantly supported, Minnesota created the state Public Safety Commission. Tasked with aiding the war effort, the commission investigated German-language textbooks, registered aliens, and targeted pacifistic dissent (Gilman 58). Appointed by the governor, Lind was a moderate who worked “relentlessly for the suppression of the [Industrial Workers of the World]” (Chrislock 77). Soon afterward, as the commission became increasingly aggressive in its work, Lind resigned in protest.
He remained in Minneapolis until his death in 1930.
Blegen, Theodore C. Minnesota: A History of the State (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1975).
Chrislock, Carl H. Watchdog of Loyalty: The Minnesota Public Safety Commission During World War I. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1991).
Cumberland, Charles C. Mexican Revolution: The Constitutionalist Years. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972).
Gilman, Rhoda R. Stand Up! The Story of Minnesota’s Protest Tradition (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012).
Helmes, Winifred G. John A. Johnson: The People’s Governor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1949).
Lind, John. Biennial Messages of Governors to the Legislature of Minnesota, 1899. (St. Paul: The Pioneer Press Company, 1899).
Minnesota Historical Society. An Inventory of John Lind’s Papers.
Stephenson, George M. John Lind of Minnesota. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1935).
While reading Floyd Bjornsterne Olson: Minnesota’s Greatest Liberal Governor (1937), a collection of speeches and remembrances published after Olson’s death, I came across the following. As I prepare for the LSAT, I’ve received thousands of tips on what to do before, during, and immediately after law school, but none of it has been as useful as the following. Young lawyers: Take note.
After working a series of odd jobs around the country, in 1913, at the age of 20, Olson returned to Minneapolis and attended night-classes at the Northwestern College of Law (now the William Mitchell College of Law). Two years later he graduated and passed the bar exam. But after doing so, he was sued by his law school over unpaid tuition fees. The trial was recounted by Joseph Poirier, a college friend and later Minneapolis Municipal Judge (1937-1942):
… I recall that one of the first lawsuits Floyd tried was one in which he was a defendant. He was sued by [the] law school for an alleged unpaid balance on his tuition fee. He defended his own case, and I well recall his defense, in which he was Exhibit One as well as defendant. His argument was: “I know nothing about law, have learned nothing; and while I have been admitted to practice, you can readily see that I am no lawyer. My ignorance of the law, and the way I try this case are clear proofs that I have received nothing by reason of my alleged instruction at this school.” And, strange to say, the jury found for him. (32)
I was unable to find the annual tuition cost at Northwesten Law, but I do know it cost $160 (plus a $10 fee) to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School at that time, which would be ~$4,000 in today’s dollars. A century later, according to the American Bar Association, the average debt for private law school graduates is $125,000 — so maybe Floyd’s on to something here.
Four years ago I was invited to attend the National Rural Youth Assembly in Santa Fe, NM. There I joined 50 other young activists to discuss rural issues and policy, but being nineteen, I spent most the time quiet, nervous. Looking back, though, it was an experience that later framed my work in the DFL Party and elsewhere. In this brief article, I discuss how so.
Following the election, I spent the next two years attending as many DFL meetings as I could, spending all of my money on gas. Quickly, I developed the reputation of being “That Guy from Morris,” and, at the 2012 State Convention, was elected to serve on the DFL State Executive Committee. As both the only rural youth and its youngest member overall, I served one two-year term doing what I could to make the party more welcoming to young people.
While serving, I also immersed myself in the state’s rural political and literary history. Everyone wants to see their home, their experiences, represented in the culture, so I read everything I could. I read about the Nonpartisan League and the Farmer-Labor Party. Through Sinclair Lewis, Robert Bly, Paul Gruchow, and others, I saw through their eyes the prairies I walked, the same roads I drove, the people I knew. Together these gave me a broad sense of what rural organizing could amount to and formed the basis of my own rural identity. The development of this identity is the difference between being from just another small town and a hometown. Without it, there is no sense of place. …
What Did I Get Out of It?
When I attended the National Rural Youth Assembly, I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota Morris. Being nineteen, I had no experience in politics and no grasp of public policy. So, traveling to Santa Fe, I worried whether I’d have anything to contribute – and, as I discovered, I didn’t. Nervously, shuffling from one workshop to another, I filled my notebook with everything I heard. Two days later, when I was on the plane back to Minnesota, I wondered what the experience meant. What did I get out of it? At the time, I wasn’t sure, but in one’s formative years, mere exposure is its own takeaway.
Looking back four years later, I take it for granted that I have an immense pride being from southwestern Minnesota. Far from being an epithet, I embrace the label “rural,” and am proud knowing…
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