In 1928, there were 42 Urban Leagues in the United States, including Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters. In Minnesota, the Negro community was active and growing in the first two decades of the century. Wendell Jones, a postal clerk on Washington Avenue, was among the first to pay the fee to become a charter member of the Minneapolis-St. Paul affiliate in 1926. “At that time, there was no office, no paid staff — just a meeting in a church,” said Wendell.
Although there was no segregation by law in Minnesota, it was impossible for a black man to be served in a restaurant in Minneapolis. In the late 1940s, African Americans were the largest minority yet the school system did not have a single black teacher. The Minneapolis Urban League was still a small operation utilizing mostly community volunteers and coalitions among churches and other groups.
The Minneapolis Urban League was one of the first to move from its location in the downtown business district into the neighborhoods. Affiliates established Street Academies, launched voter education drives and undertook community health and neighborhood improvement programs. They demanded that white institutions respond. Social services alone could not eliminate the problems. Only changing the system would suffice. Yet blacks were more segregated, more concentrated in a physical space than ever before. The difference at the end of the sixties was that the inhabitants were volatile, informed citizens who were not afraid of white political or economic power and they occupied key sections of the nation’s most important cities.
The Minneapolis Urban League grew along with the national organization and by the mid-1990s, the Minneapolis Urban League reached over 25,000 people each year through education, employment, individual client services and public policy advocacy. The staff included over 100 full and part-time employees most of whom lived in the areas they serve.
Twenty-first century progress included a new strategic plan and the launch in 2010 of the Minneapolis Urban League’s Gateway to Opportunity framework for program and service delivery. As demographic changes brought an increased population of African descendants to Minnesota, and with it an increased demand on Urban League services, the Minneapolis Urban League responded by redoubling efforts to work collaboratively and strategically to respond to the critical needs of our constituency. In 2015, the Minneapolis Urban League convened an array of community groups and advocacy organizations serving African American and African immigrant people to plan a legislative strategy and set a priority agenda for consideration by our state legislature. The resultant United Black Legislative Agenda was able to push through a historic equity bill that appropriated $35 million to address racial equity around the state.
Now, as we confront a new climate of political change and opportunity, our focus on building coalitions and partnerships will continue. With support from the National Urban League as well as from major philanthropic, political and community leadership, the Minneapolis Urban League will begin to explore the feasibility of a metro expansion. This expansion will increase the organization’s footprint into areas of the Twin Cities metropolitan area that have long experienced an increased demand for culturally-specific programming and service delivery.
The Minneapolis Urban League Board of Directors completed work on a strategic framework document in 2017 that will chart the course for the agency through 2020. At its 91st anniversary gala, the League introduced its new mission statement – one that punctuates the role of the organization to be “unapologetic and relentless advocates for equity, justice and power for African descendants.
The Urban League looks forward to fulfilling its role as a leader, convener and trusted voice that sets the agenda and drives solutions. We believe an equitable society can be realized and envision a future in which African descendants are fully engaged, empowered and invested in the success and well-being of the Twin Cities metropolitan area.