The dark day in Duluth one hundred years ago…

Yesterday, June 15, 1920, was exactly one hundred years since three young African Americans were lynched and killed in the city of Duluth on the North Shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota.

The decades around the turn of the 20th century in Minnesota were years of political upheaval and discontent, agrarian protest movements rising up against the power of the corporations and income inequalities, increased radicalism, and new political constellations. It was a time of Populism and Progressivism, of the Farmers’ Alliance and the Non-partisan League, of the most contentious, and scandalous, gubernatorial election in Minnesota history, of massive strikes by the miners on the Iron Range, of the election of a socialist mayor in Minneapolis, and, on top of that, abroad, the Russian Revolution and the rise of communism while America entered the Great War in Europe. It was also a time of violations of civil liberties, of political repression, which the U.S. Department of Justice called “the most serious interference with civil liberties” in the whole country, and a time when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) flourished in the Midwest, particularly in Minnesota.

The dark years during World War I in Minnesota seemed to have no end when tragedy struck in Duluth. What happened then shook not only the state but the whole country. On that day, a mob of between 5,000 and 10,000 stormed the local jail and dragged three of six young African Americans from a touring circus, arrested for suspicion of having raped a young white woman, out on the street, beat them, and lynched them by hanging them from a Duluth lamp post, one by one.

Lynchings were not uncommon in America at the time. Between 1889 and 1918, over 3,200 people had been lynched across the nation, 218 of them in northern states and at least 20 of them in Minnesota, where, by 1920, the author Michael Fedo writes, “The intolerance, openly and tacitly approved by the Commission (of Public Safety) took forms of hatred toward Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.”  The doctor who examined the young woman stated that “I don’t think she was raped.” Still, seven black circus workers were indicted and one was convicted, serving more than four of a 30-year jail sentence, while 25 white men were indicted for rioting and twelve for murder. Three of the rioters were convicted and served less than two years in prison. No murder conviction was ever obtained.

Duluth had at the time a population of around 100,000, of whom 30 percent were foreign-born, many Swedes, Norwegians, and Finns, but only about 500 blacks. As soon as he heard about the lynchings, Governor Jospeh A.A. Burnquist, a Swedish American, dispatched two companies from the Minnesota National Guard to Duluth, and he launched an investigation about the inefficient response of the Duluth police. But Burnquist, who happened to be the chairman of the local St Paul chapter of the civil rights organization NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, never put his weight behind it and never launched an independent investigation about the tragedy. All indications were that the Governor wanted little to do with what had occurred.   Despite pleas from the NAACP after an investigation found the three lynched not guilty of the alleged rape, Burnquist never officially declared that the three young black men were innocent.

There were many with Scandinavian names involved in the lynching, on both sides, reflecting the large Scandinavian population in Duluth. Among the police, police sergeant Oscar Olson led the fight in trying to stop the mob from getting to his prisoners. Olson, who joined the Ku Klux Klan after the lynching, later became Duluth’s chief of police and was shot to death during World War II while trying to make an arrest. Others were patrolmen Jacob Nystrom and Victor Isaacson. In the mob were found 19-year-old Swedish-born, Carl Hammerberg, one of the three rioters convicted and sent to prison, and Leonard Hedman, a 23-year-old high school graduate and World War II veteran, who was said to have a bright future before the lynchings. Hedman was acquitted.

The lynchings in Duluth were hushed up. School text books did not mention them. For years, it was as if they had never happened, But photos were taken and postcards were made, and Bob Dylan, born in Duluth, shone light on the tragedy in his classic “Desolation Row” from 1965 with the opening lines:

“They’re selling postcards of the hanging,

They’re painting the passports brown,

The beauty parlor is filled with sailors,

The circus is in town.”

Still, most Minnesotans had never heard of the Duluth lynchings until 1979, when Michael Fedo’s book, They Was Just Niggers – quoting one in the mob — came out, and, particularly, when a new version of the book, The Lynchings in Duluth, was published in 2000. A wider discussion ensued. The unmarked graves of the three lynched African Americans in Duluth’s Park Hill Cemetery were finally inscribed with the victims’ names, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie.  In 2003, at the corner of First Street and Second Avenue in downtown Duluth where the lynching had taken place over 80 years earlier, a memorial was raised to the three young men.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Paul H. Anderson, gave a speech at the dedication of the memorial. You know, he told me in an interview, they didn’t know what the three young men looked like, so they had three students from the local high school stand as models. It’s a nice memorial, quiet and serene. The inscription says, “An event has happened upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to remain silent.”

The year after the Duluth lynchings, the Minnesota State Legislature passed an anti-lynching law, 41-0 in the Senate and 81-1 in the House. Today, in Duluth, the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial, Inc. organizes days of remembrance every month of June, with the purpose of “fostering racial justice in our community through education, reconciliation and healing.”

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), long dormant, had by 1915 a new life and was by the 1920s flourishing in the Midwest, not the least in Minnesota, according to Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle’s 2013 book The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota, and particularly after the 1920 Duluth lynchings. By 1922, the KKK claimed that its Duluth chapter had 1,500 members and by the mid-20s, the Klan was reaching the height of its power. Not one county in Minnesota was untouched by Klan, which held its first state-wide konklave, or convention, in the town of Faribault in 1924 with around 2,500 participants, according to a Klan report cited by Hale. Organized by the Steele County KKK, Klan Park in the town of Owatonna was the scene of the next three konklaves. After the third one, the power of the Klan in the Midwest started to decline, partially because if internal scandals. In July 1930, only 500 people participated in a day-long KKK picnic in St Paul. Still, in 1947, a Klan member, Stafford King, challenged Luther W. Youngdahl for the Republican nomination as governor. He lost, but tried again, in 1952, running against C. Elmer Anderson in the Republican primary. Again, he lost.

Minnesota allowed Klan chapters to be incorporated in the state. The KKK drew from fraternal orders such as the Masons and Shriners, and part of its strategy was alliances with Protestant ministers, especially evangelicals, who believed that the Christian faith should guide political and social life and tried to inject religion into Minnesota’s public schools. In 1922, after reports that some members of the Minneapolis police force belonged to the Klan, the mayor forbade the city’s police officers from being members in the Klan, and in 1924, a hard-charging Scandinavian prosecutor in Minneapolis, who had taken on the Klan, ran for governor.  He was to become a legend in Minnesota politics. But it was not until 1997 that Minnesota Secretary of State, Joan Anderson Growe, dissolved all KKK charters and licenses together with all other unregistered non-profits, as authorized by Minnesota statute. Writes Dorsey Hatle, Minnesota was one of the last states in the Midwest to give up on the Ku Klux Klan.

Reading, reading about a different America

Massachusetts with its seven million inhabitants is slowly opening up after two months of serious lockdown and 87,052 coronavirus cases and 5,862 deaths, 37 of them here in the Berkshires in the western part of the state, where I live, which has seen an unchanged number of deaths for thirteen days.

That’s encouraging. Still, the reopening will last over four phases over several months. We are treading carefully, seeking to avoid a second virus wave. Eventually, our little town, where almost everything has been closed except the supermarkets and the liquor stores, the hospital and the gas stations, will come alive again. I look forward to seeing people, who are not afraid of each other, to having a drink at a bar surrounded by noisy customers, or ordering a favorite Neapolitan pizza, to going to the movies or a museum.

Spring has been unusually cold but, finally, this week has warmed up and summer is approaching. But it will be a summer like no one else, at least for a very long time, for it will be a summer without all that the Berkshires ordinarily has to offer: the Boston symphony at Tanglewood, serious dance at Jacob’s Pillow, museums like MassMoca, theater like Shakespeare & Company – all closed and with cancelled summer programs.

It’s been quiet here for the past months and it looks like it will continue to be quiet for quite some time. Actually, I have not minded the quiet, cooking and eating well, taking a walk, obsessively following the day’s corona news, and then reading and reading…The bookstores and the libraries have also been closed, but I have called Matt at his “The Bookstore” in neighboring Lenox and ordered books, to pick them up curbside a couple of days later.

And so, I have and have made a big, new discovery — Pekka Hämäläinen — about as Finnish a name as there is. Born, raised, and educated in Helsinki, Finland’s capital, he somewhere along the way became interested in early North American history, particularly Native American history, taught at universities in Texas and California before becoming Rhodes Professor of American History at University of Oxford and conducting research on nomadic empires in world history.

His two books, Comanche Empire from 2008 and Lakota AmericaA New History of Indigenous Power from 2019 — both published by Yale University Press — have been true revelations and given me a new and different perspective on America and American history.

IMG_2052

Comanche Empire, which won the 2009 Bancroft Prize in American history, has been called “revisionist” history, revisionist, maybe, because it looks at American history from the point of view of its original people, the American Indians. It’s about an empire, Hämäläinen writes, which did not exist according to conventional history, but, in fact, ruled the southern plains in the American Southwest (Texas, New Mexico, northern Mexico) in the 18th and 19th centuries, defeating all the other tribes, including the Apaches, and restraining and overshadowing the Spanish, French, Mexicans, and Anglo/Euro-Americans. The Comanches formed an “interregional power with imperial presence” reaching “unparalleled heights of political and economic influence, material wealth, and internal stability” until their final defeat in the Texas Panhandle in 1875.

That defeat occurred just a year before the American Indians’ last big victory, up north at Little Bighorn in Montana, when the Lakota/Sioux-led forces killed General Custer and all his two hundred men. That victory, “Custer’s Last Stand,” led, in 1890, to the Wounded Knee Massacre and the final end of Lakota power in the West. The story of the Lakotas, as Hämäläinen tells it, from their beginning around the Great Lakes to rulers of the northern plains led by famous chiefs such as Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse, is perhaps more widely known than the story of the Comanches, but it is just as riveting and just as impressive as a scholarly endeavor.

Both are, simply, beautiful books, and my biggest reading discovery during these days of coronavirus. Thank you, Pekka!

 

“An excellent book,” writes Danish professor about my Minnesota book — nice!

“All in all, Bergman has written an excellent book that any layman or scholar with an interest in Minnesota’s Nordic past will enjoy reading,” concludes Danish professor Jørn Brøndal in his review of my book about Minnesota’s Scandinavian political legacy.

The review was published in the latest issue of the Norwegian-American Historical Association’s journal Norwegian-American Studies (https://www.naha.stolaf.edu).

Klas Bergman, Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017). 6×9 inches, 20 b&w photos, index. viii + 310 pp. ISBN 9781681340302. $19.95

By Jørn Brøndal

In this interesting book, Klas Bergman explores how Nordic immigrants and their American-born progeny helped shape Minnesota’s political culture all the way from the 1850s to the present. During those years thousands of Nordics participated in Minnesota politics, several of them reaching high positions of power, including twenty-one governorships from 1893 to 1999.

The book offers short, incisive biographies of an impressive array of Minnesota’s Nordic politicians. As one might expect, ample room is made for exploring such towering figures as U.S. senator Knute Nelson (dates in office 1895–1923), Governors John B. Lind (1899–1901), Floyd B. Olson (1931–1936), and Wendell R. Anderson (1971–1976), as well as vice presidents and later Democratic presidential nominees Hubert H. Humphrey (1965–1969) and Walter F. Mondale (1977–1981). More controversial leaders are also examined. The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety under Governor Joseph A. A. Burnquist (1915–1921) put civil liberties under massive pressure during World War I. Also, Burnquist’s fight in the 1918 Republican primary against Charles A. Lindbergh Sr. turned ugly. Governors Hjalmar Petersen (1936–1937) and Harold Stassen (1939–1943) each employed red-baiting and anti-Semitism in their election bids.

Two dimensions of Bergman’s study stand out. First, he demonstrates the historical importance of an amazing array of left-leaning grassroots activists, including such Swedish-American radicals as Walfrid Engdahl, Walter Malte Frank, and Carl Skoglund, each of whom left Sweden in the wake of the General Strike of 1909, only to resume their labor activism in Minnesota. Whereas Engdahl and Frank ended up joining the Farmer-Labor Party, Skoglund was a central leader of the landmark Minneapolis Teamsters’ Strike of 1934, later emerging as a Trotskyist and serving time in jail. Minnesota’s Nordic radicals, however, also included many Finns of the Iron Range whose reception in Minnesota was negative, to the point of one draft resister being lynched during World War I. The Finns, it turns out, were more politicized and radicalized than any other group, and when the American version of the Communist Party was founded in the early 1920s, more than forty percent of its members were Finns. During Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror, many Minnesota Finns made the disastrous decision of migrating to Soviet Karelia.

The second dimension of Bergman’s book that stands out is his comprehensive coverage of the various political currents coursing through Minnesota from the territorial days to the present. Here, the Scandinavians, especially the Norwegians and Swedes, played a central role. They did so first as staunch Republicans but from the end of the nineteenth century also as Populists and then as activists within the Progressive movement and its radical offshoot, the Nonpartisan League, in the early twentieth century. During the 1930s many of them joined the Farmer-Labor Party, “the most successful third party in American history” (150), and from 1944 the liberal Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), while also contributing to keeping the postwar GOP moderate and reform-minded. Generally prudent, pragmatic, and progressive—and oftentimes informed by a secularized version of Lutheranism—the Scandinavians of Minnesota helped build a result- and reform-oriented political culture.

From the turn of the millennium, to be sure, the traditionally progressive state GOP took a conservative turn. In that sense, Bergman suggests, even as the DFL “stayed true to its Scandinavian roots . . . the Republican Party became ever less Scandinavian” (194). Nevertheless, as Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota suggests, notwithstanding the recent waning of Scandinavian-American political leadership, “we are on the road that the Scandinavians have put us on” (252).

Based on an impressive amount of historical literature and primary sources, including oral history interviews and the author’s own talks with Minnesota leaders and grassroots, Bergman’s account is transnational in scope, focusing not only on Minnesota but also on Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, and Icelandic history. The book is skewed somewhat toward the Swedes, for instance, in its rather surprising coverage of the contemporary Somali presence both in Minneapolis’s Sixth Ward—an old Scandinavian stronghold—and in Sweden. Minor quibbles involve the book’s unclear distinction between the meaning of “liberal” and “progressive” and the use of “Scandinavian” and “Nordic” interchangeably. Of course, any analysis of Scandinavian influences on Minnesota’s political culture will have to include impressionistic elements, as Bergman’s book indeed does. To be pedantic, Danish-American George A. Nelson was not elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1899 but only years later (190). As a journalist rather than a historian, Bergman loyally quotes many historians while rarely challenging their accounts.

All in all, Bergman has written an excellent book that any layman or scholar with an interest in Minnesota’s Nordic past will enjoy reading.

Jørn Brøndal is professor of American studies at the University of Southern Denmark. He specializes in U.S. ethnic, racial, and political history.

–end.

Minnesota’s Scandinavian political legacy lives on!

Vesterheim, the magazine of the Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, recently published my article about how Scandinavian immigrants and their ancestors have shaped Minnesota politics.

The article is based on my  book, Scandinavians in the State House — How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics, published by Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2017.

It’s nice to see the continued interest in this unique Scandinavian aspect of American history and politics.

Enjoy, I hope!

VesterheimMinnesota072019

 

Moving on…to the blue Berkshires

I have moved. Again! My friends say.

Yes, I have moved many times during my years in America, mainly from coast to coast and back again, except for many months once in the Upper Midwest, more precisely in Minnesota, when I researched my book about the Scandinavian immigrants’ role and influence on Minnesota politics.

Now, after many years in Maryland just outside Washington, DC, and after a year and a half in Los Angeles, my new home is the little town of Great Barrington in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, in New England, America’s northeast corner, up towards Canada.

Moving is part of being American. People move for many reasons; one is politics, maybe more so today than ever in this politically divided nation. Politics played a role when my wife and I decided to move to Massachusetts. It mattered that this is a blue state, just like Maryland, although both have Republican governors, and just like solidly Democratic Los Angeles. Our congressmen, whose names and political ideology have become more important since we became U.S. citizens with the right to vote, have come to reflect our politics — in Maryland’s Montgomery County through the leading progressive Jamie Raskin; in Los Angeles, through Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee after the sweeping democratic election victory in 2018; and here in the Berkshires, through Richard Neal, for whom the election thrust him into the chairmanship of the important Ways and Means Committee and a leading role in the fight to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns.

The Berkshires is not an economically rich area with a median house hold in come of $39,000 per year. It’s rural, but unlike many other rural areas around America, its 131,000 residents are Democrats — Hillary Clinton captured over 67 percent of the vote here in the 2016. But, also here, Donald Trump is ever present, well covered in the excellent local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, and dinner conversations, just like elsewhere in this country, are often dominated by the man in the White House. The fact that Massachusetts has three presidential candidates, two Democrats – senator Elizabeth Warren and congressman Seth Moulton — and one Republican, former governor William Weld, has contributed to the heightened political debate in the Berkshires and in the state as a whole. No other state disapproves as much of Trump as Massachusetts, so it’s really no wonder that his only, at least so far, challenger for the Republican nomination has come from here.

In Great Barrington this time of the year, as in all the little towns among the rolling hills of the Berkshires, the residents have gathered to debate and vote on local issues in a sort of unique direct democracy. At my first Annual Town Meeting the residents filled the local high school’s auditorium in an impressive showing of political participation. Still, the 468 who came was only a small percentage of the town’s 4,746 registered voters of whom 1,235, or 26 percent, actually voted in the local office elections a week later. Not so impressive…

The local issues even required an extra evening of debate to resolve. They included the town’s budget, schools and libraries, roads and bridges, and many zoning issues. We gave the town’s middle school a new name, W.E.B. Du Bois, after the legendary African American scholar and civil rights leaders, who was born and raised here; we upheld a ban for the second time on small plastic bottles; and we debated, just like all the other Berkshire towns the issue of pot – marijuana – now legal in Massachusetts.

We already have a shop that sells recreational marijuana and most days, actually every day, there is a long line of buyers, many from neighboring New York and Connecticut, where pot is not, at least not yet, legal. Four more shops have been approved and are set to open. A possible new, big marijuana growing facility is being discussed up the road. Other surrounding towns have turned out to be more skeptical and have voted no to any pot businesses. Now, the residents of Great Barrington seem to be getting a bit nervous and, maybe, we should limit the number of marijuana establishments? Let’s look into that, the Town Meeting decided.

This is the first time I live in a small town. It’s exciting, in a low-key kind of way. Spring is finally here, with lush, green leaves on the trees in our back yard down to the quick little river that flows by. Winter, to which I should be used after growing up in Sweden, was a bit rougher than I had anticipated, especially after the previous so-called winter in Los Angeles.

And summer is rapidly approaching, with all of Berkshires cultural attractions waiting: the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood; art exhibits and concerts at MASS MoCA celebrating its 20th anniversary with Annie Lennox; August Renoir will be at the Clark Institute; the Norman Rockwell Museum turns 50; Herman Melville turns 200. There are exciting new plays at Shakespeare & Company and Barrington Stage; bluesman Buddy Guy is coming to town, and Arlo Guthrie is at his Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church, of Alice’s Restaurant fame, just across the street from our new home; and on and on…

It’s almost exhausting. And if the weather holds and you want to get away from it all, it’s easy to go hiking or swimming or canoeing or just sit by the river and listen to the water flowing by, quickly.

The Somali breakthrough in Minnesota politics

The Somali immigrant community in Minnesota, the center of the Somali diaspora in the United States, has been nibbling for years at entering the state’s politics. Heavily concentrated in central Minneapolis, in the old Scandinavian neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, their first political success came in 2010 on the city’s school board, followed, in 2013, when a Somali immigrant was elected to the city council, and then, in 2016, when a Somali woman handily beat a long-time incumbent to get elected to the State Legislature.

These new Americans political success had come slowly and over a number of years, but last night’s primary election results in Minnesota were the definitive breakthrough of the Somali immigrant population in the state’s politics.

Not only did Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee woman, who came to American when she was eight years old, win the Democratic primary for a seat  in the US House of Representatives, but her seat in the State Legislature will be filled by a fellow countryman, Mohamud Noor.   They both handily won their Democratic primaries, Omar capturing 48 per cent of the vote and beating the experienced former Speaker of the State House, and Noor winning with 40 percent of the vote. Both of them will represent heavily Democratic districts, and there is little doubt that they will be elected in November.

The Somali election victories are truly historic and they underscore the fact that the Somalis are in Minnesota politics to stay. These first victorious Somali politicians are all first generation immigrants, born in the old country and arriving in America at various ages. As they settled in central Minneapolis, the neighborhood that used to be heavily Scandinavian and called “Snoose Boulevard” the area became known as “Little Mogadishu.” And just like the Scandinavian immigrants before them, these new Somali immigrants sought political clout using their ethnic concentration in the center of the city.

(For more on this, please see my book, Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics. Minnesota Historical Society Press)

But what is new, as Ibrahim Hirsi recently wrote on the Minnesota news site, MinnPost, and what he called a “milestone,” is that there now is a second generation Somali-Americans, born in America — “Somalis without the accent” — entering Minnesota politics. 28-year-old Omar Fateh, born in Washington, DC, is one of them, and he is like all the other Somali-American political candidates, well-educated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees,

But last night, Fateh only came in third in the State House District 62A, south of downtown Minneapolis. He was narrowly beaten by two other Somali-Americans competing in the Democratic primary, which was won by Hodan Hassan, a clinical worker, immigrant and a single mom. In a tight race, she captured 28 percent of the vote, beating also another Somali immigrant, Osman Ahmed, long active in Minnesota politics.

As the American-born political generation is starting to knock on the door, the first foreign-born Somali generation clearly still have political clout. But the fact that a new generation seems to stand ready to take over is a most encouraging sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swedish-American Historical Quarterly on my book “Scandinavians in the State House”

Here is a review of my book about the Scandinavian political legacy in Minnesota. It is written by Kevin Proescholdt, editor of the Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, and published in January 2018, Vol. 69, No. 1.  

Bergman, Klas. Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics. Saint Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017. 310 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index, endnotes. ISBN: 978-1- 68134-030-2.

Minnesota is often referred to as the most Scandinavian of all the United States. Tens of thousands of immigrants from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland did indeed settle in Minnesota, and over time these immigrants exerted an enormous influence on the state, including its politics. Since 1892, for example, Minnesota has had twenty governors of Nordic descent. Between 1915 and 1976, every Minnesota governor was of Swedish or Norwegian descent except for one Finland- Swede and one Dane. And the numbers of these governors are dwarfed by the thousands of Nordics who have served in local and county positions and state legislative offices, across the state and through the decades. Two such Nordics from Minnesota have even served as vice president of the United States.

Klas Bergman’s Scandinavians in the State House tells the story of the Scandinavian influences in Minnesota politics, and how those influences have shaped, and continue to shape, Minnesota politics today. Far more than just a compilation of Scandinavians who were elected to offices in the state, and far more than an uncritical filiopietistic, cheer–for-our- own-ethnic-group portrayal, this book delves into the widely varying backgrounds of Scandinavians in Minnesota, and how that diversity of experiences helped create the rich and enduring influence on the politics of the state.

The book is arranged somewhat, but not strictly, chronologically. This deviation from a purely chronological arrangement allows the author to delve more deeply into topics that may not neatly fit a straight chronological pattern, topics such as “Radicals in Exile” or “Finns on the Range.”

The books begins in detail looking at the “four pioneers” in the state capitol, the first Scandinavians to be elected governor of Minnesota: Norwegian immigrant and Civil War veteran Knute Nelson in 1892, a Republican; Swedish-born John Lind in 1898, a Democrat; John A. Johnson, also a Democrat and son of Swedish immigrants, elected in 1904; and Adolph Olson Eberhart, also born in Sweden, and elected as a Republican in 1908. Though traditionally affiliated with the Republican Party, “the Scandinavian vote was far from monolithic,” even in these early years of gubernatorial success.

The cleavages among the Scandinavian voters were widened even further during the tumultuous years between the turn of the twentieth century and the end of World War I. The Nonpartisan League gained strength among Scandinavians during this time—especially in rural areas—and Swedish immigrant Charles A. Lindbergh Sr. (the father of the famous aviator) became a nationally recognized member of Congress from Minnesota and opponent of World War I. Lindbergh challenged Governor J. A. A. Burnquist (the son of Swedish immigrants) in the Republican primary for governor in 1918 amid the toxic politics of war-time repression and strident xenophobia, and eventually lost to Burnquist, splitting the Swedish vote mostly along urban-rural lines.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is “Radicals in Exile,” a chapter reprinted in the April 2017 issue of this journal. This chapter provides a nice counter-balance to the image of Swedish immigrants in Minnesota as pioneer farmers like Karl-Oskar from Vilhelm Moberg’s emigrant novels. The chapter follows the lives of three Swedes—Walfrid Engdahl, Carl Skoglund, and Walter Malte Frank—who had all been blacklisted in Sweden for participation in the General Strike of 1909 or for other labor activities, and were essentially forced to emigrate. Though none of the three was ever elected as governor, all three became active in Minnesota politics via such avenues as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies), the Farmer-Labor Party (later the Demo- cratic-Farmer-Labor Party), the Socialist Party, or the Communist Party.

After World War II, the author writes of the emergence of the two modern political parties in Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party, led by Nordic-American Hubert H. Humphrey; and a progressive Republican Party, a moderate and internationalist party shaped by the former “Boy Governor” Harold Stassen of German/ Czech/Norwegian descent. The author attributes much of the progressive nature of the state and its politics to the Scandinavian influences brought by the masses of Scandinavian immigrants who settled in the state and became involved with the state’s politics and public life.

Klas Bergman ends the book in a most interesting way. In the penultimate chapter, entitled “From Snoose Boulevard to Little Mogadishu,” he describes how Somali immigrants of today have taken a page from the playbook of the old Scandinavian immigrants in the south Minneapolis Sixth Ward. Once a stronghold of Scandinavian Americans, the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and the broader Sixth Ward today have become a stronghold for Somali immigrants. Like their Scandinavian predecessors, the Somali immigrants have exerted their political power, and with growing success. In 2013, for example, Somali immigrant Abdi Warsame won an impressive victory over the incumbent city council member to represent the Sixth Ward on the City Council. In 2016 Ilhan Omar, a thirty-three-year-old Somali-American woman who had fled Somalia as a child, defeated a long-time DFL member of the state legislature, becoming the first Somali American elected to any state legislative office in the country. The Somali-American immigrants of today are following the same path to political office in the same neighborhoods that were blazed by the Scandinavian immigrants of a century or more ago.

There is much to recommend in Scandinavians in the State House. It is well researched (including citations of many articles from this Quarterly), well written and well documented, and the author conducted more than ninety interviews to supplement his meticulous research. It is a must-read for understanding the influence of Scandinavian Americans on the political life of Minnesota.

KEVIN PROESCHOLDT

EDITOR, SWEDISH-AMERICAN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

http://www.swedishamericanhist.org

 

 

First comments on my coming book about the Scandinavians in Minnesota politics

Here are some pre-publication comments about my book, “Scandinavians in the State House — How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics,” which will be out on April 15.

“Bergman has written an essential text on Minnesota politics. This is a rich, engaging, and thoroughly researched narrative of the strong Scandinavian imprint on the state’s public life—both past and present.”
Steven E. Schier, Congdon Professor of Political Science, Carleton College

“Well researched. Well written. Klas Bergman has made an important contribution not just to Minnesota’s history but to understanding the extraordinary role immigrants have played in defining the American dream.”
Arne Helge Carlson, Governor of Minnesota, 1991–99

“They were farmers, miners, and laborers. They were Republicans and radicals. They were pastors, poets, and politicians. They were the men and women of Scandinavia who came to Minnesota in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and gave their adopted homeland a distinctive, highly participatory civic culture. With rich detail, Klas Bergman tells a truly epic saga, inseparable from the story of Minnesota itself.
Lori Sturdevant, editorial writer and columnist, Star Tribune

“Klas Bergman vividly explains the historic migration of people, politics, religion, and culture from Scandinavia to key roles in the political life of the North Star State. The book is a timely reminder of the ongoing importance of immigration to America’s civic life.”
Tom Berg, author of Minnesota’s Miracle: Learning from the Government That Worked

“Whether you are a casual observer or a serious student of Minnesota’s political history, Klas Bergman’s book should be on your ‘must read’ list.”
Roger Moe, Minnesota Senate majority leader, 1981–2003

“Minnesota has sure been molded and shaped by Scandinavians in governing positions. I am proud and respectful of all of them and their service to our great state . . . even the Scandinavians that I might disagree with!”
Steve Sviggum, Minnesota House speaker, 1998–2006

“Scandinavians in the State House reinforces just how powerful Nordic immigrants were in the development of what I call Minnesota Exceptionalism, our distinctively progressive character and a communitarian political culture. Bergman not only provides rich new detail on the full extent of that influence and dominance, but he also is respectful of our newest immigrants, who are bringing their own energy and political leadership to the path the Scandinavians blazed.”
Dane Smith, President, Growth & Justice

A voice of hope and optimism from Minnesota

R.T. Rybak, the former long-time mayor of Minneapolis, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and CEO and president of the Minneapolis Foundation,  lends a voice of hope and optimism to these otherwise dark days in America.  Let’s hope he is right. Here he is, on his Facebook page:

“My heart sank Friday as I walked down Pennsylvania Av in Washington and saw a giant reviewing stand had been built in front of the White House. Eight years ago this is where I was so filled with pride when I saw our new President Barack Obama, and his family, as they were about to enter their new home. Knowing it was now about to house Donald Trump was almost more than I could take.
I felt so hollow when I thought about all we have had, and what we will lose. But something really wonderful happened next and I hope it gives hope to those of you who love President Obama as much as I do:
I went through security into the White House because the President invited me in to come by for a few minutes before he left office. I turned the corner to the Oval Office to see him looking more energized than he has in months, and with that huge smile on this face that has lifted so many of us so many times.
I gave him a copy of my book, told him that now that he’s mastered this POTUS gig he was ready for the big time as a Mayor. Then I handed him a note from my wife Megan O’Hara recalling what it felt like nine years ago when we stood in the Des Moines Convention Center, just after he won the Iowa caucus, and the announcer said: “And now the next First Family of the United States of America.”
I was really overwhelmed as I was telling him that because it was such a moment of pride, a beginning of a long path to him getting to the White House and, now it was over. He put his arm on my shoulder and looked at me intensely, saying, “We aren’t done yet.”
I wish I could have bottled the look in his eyes so all the people I know, and don’t, who feel dishearten now, who are so fearful of what comes next, and who feel a sense of loss, know he is absolutely not, under any circumstances, going to stop fighting for what we believe in.
“I’m going to take a little vacation,” he said, “get a little sun, but then we are right back at it. ”
He told me about the work he will be doing on youth and families, on getting more people engaged in voting, on protecting liberties. Then he said the words that meant the most to me: “The best is yet to come.”
I believe Barack Obama was the greatest President of my lifetime, but as I heard him talk, I remembered he is about more than political office. At so many times—his amazing speech about race in the first campaign, his powerful words after Sandy Hook, his second inaugural when laid out the imperative of attacking climate change—he has moved us beyond politics to elevate our values. This is his great opportunity now; just as America faces a crisis of values, a great debate about who we really are at our core, he will be speaking not as just a politician, but as a moral leader. In many ways we need that even more today than great politicians.
In the couple minutes we had left we talked about what I am learning in my own evolution from political to civic leader; about what you can and can’t do in and out of office, and how much can be done if each of your statements aren’t filtered through the cynicism people have for politicians.
We said goodbye and I walked out of the White House, past that reviewing stand, but didn’t feel the same sense of dread. Donald Trump will be my President and I won’t try to delegitimize him even though many, including Trump, tried to do that to Obama for eight years. But we can fight for what we believe, and fight back, hard, when we see something wrong. And, remembering that look in the President’s eye when he told me, “We aren’t done yet”, and remembering all we have seen during his remarkable Presidency, I know he will be with us every step.
Later that night Megan and I went to a farewell party at the White House. I talked to Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan who has gone back to Chicago to work on youth violence prevention, to former Attorney General Eric Holder who is organizing opposition to unfair redistricting around the country, former White House political director and Ambassador Patrick Gaspard who is working on citizen engagement with George Soros, Gabby Giffords is fighting the gun violence that robbed her and so many others of so much, activist actors like Alfre Woodard who has been through waves of social movements saying she’s now ready for the next phase. Obama has been a President but Obama is also a movement that isn’t done on Jan 20.
Back in 2007, when I was working with activists around the country in the Draft Obama campaign, I wrote a blog on a national website saying: “Barack Obama is a great man but this is not about him. It’s about setting off a movement.” The next day he called my office, said that’s the way he saw it, that he was community organizer who wanted to light the spark, and he recruited me to volunteer for what was then a long-shot campaign. I still feel that way, and it’s clear he does, too.
And after those few wonderful minutes with him as he gets ready to leave office, I feel, like him, that “the best is yet to come.”

Thank you, Bob

It was, indeed, a special moment this week, when the country of my birth awarded Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in literature, for he has been a constant companion ever since my student days in California in the 1960s. It was special, it was even grand.

Now, I’ll leave that up to others, and they have been many, to go into the literary merits of Dylan’s songs and poetry, like the Princeton professor Sean Wilentz, author of the excellent book, “Bob Dylan in America,” who said to the Washington Post:

“We are honoring a great literary figure of our time…He has taken the lyric form, as old as Homer, and raised it to an entirely new level, a level that stands with the highest literature that the West has produced. Period.”

Like in “Mr Tambourine Man…”

Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

It’s beautiful and I must have listened to Dylan sing it a thousand times without ever getting tired of it.  I could mention many others, “Desolation Row,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Red River Shore,” and on and on…They have all been a constant joy in my life.  In fact, life would have been different without them.

Thank you Bob.