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RISE: African American

African-Americans are quite a bit different from other populations profiled here. After all, the majority of their ancestors came to America between 1619 and 1808. More importantly, of course, Africans were the only population that "immigrated" to America in chains. They did not look to this country as a place of freedom and opportunity, but of suffering and deprivation. This beginning continues to have a profound effect on their experience in America.

 

Ripped from their Roots

The Africans who were kidnapped from their homelands were mostly from the area that now makes up Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, and Gabon in West Africa. They came from many different tribes and cultures, most of which had developed complex political institutions and economic systems, strong social systems, and sophisticated religious and cultural traditions.

 

Over many decades of suppression, however, these traditions were lost, and by the time the slaves were free, they no longer had a home in Africa. They had become American. However, the post-Reconstruction South brought them not equality, but extreme poverty, Jim Crow laws, and the terror of the Ku Klux Klan. For many, slavery had simply given way to peonage.

 

Migration to Minnesota

African-Americans began to come to Minnesota after the Civil War for the very same reason Europeans had come before them: land to homestead, an abundance of jobs in the urban areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul, legal rights, and hope for a better life. Although Minnesota was probably an improvement over their life in the South, for the most part they were disappointed. Restrictive housing codes and other Jim Crow laws followed them; they were unable to procure employment above the lowest wage levels.

 

Nonetheless, in the face of exclusion from European-American institutions, African-Americans have persevered. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, they organized their own community life, built cultural institutions, and continued to press for social justice. With discipline, courage, and hard work they have chipped away at barriers and demonstrated their ability in every venue open to them.

 

African-Americans are now branching out into smaller communities in Minnesota, such as Rochester. Rochester's reputation as a safe community with a very low unemployment rate is very attractive to people searching for security and economic opportunity.