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Celebrate Minnesota’s Black History-Makers

Watch and discuss their contributions to Minnesota

February 11, 2021

By Katie Carpenter

Celebrate Black History Month this February and all year long! Black History Month is a time to look back on the history of Black leaders, artists, scientists, activists and other historical figures as well as those who are still making an impact today.

Swell Song: Black History in Waves (above) is a visual essay to honor Black History Month and the journeys that African-Americans have had to make through history. This piece was created by TPT’s Racism Unveiled Project Lead, Robert Edwards V, and his aunt Tia Williams.

Black History Month is a great time to spark a conversation with your children about the unfair treatment many Black people face because of their skin color as well as the resiliency and achievements that many have made to advance equity and justice. Conversations will help children build empathy and understanding, while celebrating the many contributions of Black people.


Watch & Discuss: Minnesota’s Black History-makers

We encourage you to watch the short clips below to learn about some intriguing Black Minnesotans who made history for their unique contributions to our society. At the end of the article, we encourage you to discuss what you learned using some of the discussion questions that are provided.

Voyageur. Entrepreneur. Diplomat. Meet MN Black Pioneer George Bonga.

Believed to be the first person of African descent born in the territory that would become Minnesota, George Bonga was a larger-than-life history maker. Educated in Montreal, Canada, George returned to the Leach Lake area of Minnesota to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as a fur trader. But his life took many twists and turns along the way.

Dive into more local history.

I Am Betty Crocker

Barbara Jo Davis was hired by General Mills in 1968. Davis had a hand in developing Hamburger Helper, welcomed tours to the test kitchens, and worked in publishing. She even traveled the nation to work with homemakers in their kitchens to refine recipes and products.

Learn more about Barbara Jo Davis and her trailblazing at General Mills and after.

Dive into more local history.

MinneHistory: Nellie Francis

This MinneHistory short features African American suffragist and Civil Rights pioneer Nellie Griswold Francis.

You can see more of her story in the new Minnesota Experience documentary, Citizen, which explores Minnesota Women’s fight for the right to vote.

Where is the Funk? How Prince Created the Minneapolis Sound (feat. Jellybean Johnson of The Time)

The electro-funk style known as the Minneapolis Sound took over pop music in the 1980s and 90s. Soundfield host, LA Buckner, is in Minneapolis to meet with Jellybean Johnson of the Minneapolis Sound pioneering band, The Time, to find out how Prince and artists like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis developed the sound. Jellybean also helps LA create his own Minneapolis-style original composition.

Former slave Prince Honeycutt was a civic leader in Fergus Falls, MN, where he helped to settle African-American migrants looking for a better life. Two of those families – the Tates and the Andersons – are the ancestors of the architects of the Minneapolis Sound. Discover how Jimmy Jam Harris and Prince owe their musical pioneering to the Black pioneers of Western MN. Dive into more local history: This Prince Set the Stage for the Minneapolis Sound… In 1896

The U of M’s First Black Quarterback Brought Gophers to Victory

In 1960, the Gophers won the National Championship thanks to the University of Minnesota’s first appointed African-American quarterback, Sandy Stephens.

Watch Minnesota Experience’s Becoming Big League which explores how sport was changing in 1960 and how that changed Minnesota. From Olympic hockey to High School hoops, from pro-sports origins in Big Ten titles, Becoming Big League is a retro sports page come to life that illustrates how 1960 might be the most dynamic year in Minnesota Sports history.

Make Vegan Black-Eye Pea Banana Pudding with Relish Chef, Lachelle Cunningham

Chef Lachelle Cunningham’s interest in African-inspired ingredients and soul food helped her create this vegan dessert. Relish shares stories of cultural heritage in Twin Cities communities through the universal language of food. In each episode, host Yia Vang (Union Hmong Kitchen) takes viewers inside the home kitchens of local chefs as they serve up an ingredient or dish that has personal and cultural meaning to them.


Get the recipe!

Discuss what you watched

Modified from PBS Parents
Looking for more ways to keep the conversation going with your family? Try using these prompts:

1. Think about the special people in your family and community. Ask: “What makes someone a hero? Who are some Black heroes that you have learned about?”

2. Use the videos above to introduce your children to different Black leaders in Minnesota throughout history. Then, ask: “Who are the Black heroes who have broken barriers in history and today?”

3. Think about how good leaders act. Find out what your child thinks is important with questions like “What is a role model? What Black role models helped to make the world a better place? How can you be a role model at school or in your neighborhood?”

Want more Black History Month activities?

PBS has you covered!

Celebrate Black History Month with TPT

Now Streaming: Black History Month on TPT Passport

How Black Art Can Spark Conversations with Children

Watch videos about Black leaders in history

Children’s Books to Celebrate Black Culture


Promotional support for Black History Month programming is provided by Frederickson & Byron, P.A.TKDA and Rosemount Measurement Products Powered by Emerson.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2021. All rights reserved.


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