March 21, 1921: W. E. B. DuBois speaks at Duluth’s St. Mark’s A.M.E. Church

W. E. B. DuBois. (Image: wikicommons)

On this day in Duluth in 1921, W. E. B. DuBois spoke at St. Mark’s A.M.E. Church at 5th Avenue East and Sixth Street before a gathering of Duluth’s fledgling chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which DuBois founded. The Duluth group, 69 members strong, had been established in September of 1920 in the wake of the June lynching of three innocent black men in downtown Duluth. DuBois in part spoke in support of Minnesota’s proposed anti-lynching law, which the legislature passed April 21, 1921. The Democratic-leaning Duluth Herald covered the talk, noting that the large audience contained “many of the white race.” The Herald reported that DuBois had said, in part, “If true democracy began at home, foreign nations would not criticize our attempts to carry it to the South Sea islands and other isolated parts of the globe…. The war had proved that the interests of all people are so intertwined that no people can live alone. Liberia is a failure because it is a state isolated from the rest of the world. It is in protest against the treatment received from superior groups that negroes and others segregate themselves in our great cities. Such ways of living are not in accordance with American ideals.” The Republican-leaning Duluth News Tribune did not make one mention of DuBois appearance in the Zenith City. Duluth’s W. H. Ray, who founded the NCAA in Duluth, presided over the event; his daughter Ethel gave an introductory talk. Ethel Ray (later Ethel Ray Nance) became friends with DuBois, and in 1945 began working for him as a secretary. There is much more to the life of Duluth’s Ethel Ray Nance, and you can read about it here .

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