Comcast has honored five Minnesota civil rights champions who have made a significant impact on racial equality in Minnesota and across the nation as part of the company’s, “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement” initiative. The platform, now in its fifth year, is a multimedia collaboration between Comcast NBCUniversal and the Equal Justice Initiative. Voices gathers firsthand accounts from civil rights voices everywhere with the goal to preserve the legacy of these icons and extend the reach of their story.
Those recognized as part of the “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement” initiative include:
Harry “Spike” Moss, Freedom Fighter
“Black Power: A New Flavor of Activism”
Harry “Spike” Moss traces his lifelong fight for racial justice to age 9, experiencing a defining moment at a white-only water fountain. Raised in the Jim Crow South, Moss recalls his family’s optimism relocating to Minnesota. But their positive outlook was short-lived, discovering that the North was not immune to the discrimination they sought to leave behind. Disillusioned but not discouraged, Moss later tried a new flavor of activism: the Black Power movement.
Civil rights activist Dr. Josie R. Johnson has dedicated her life to championing fair housing and anti-discrimination legislation. In 1962, lobbying on behalf of the League of Women Voters, Dr. Johnson played a pivotal role in passing the first fair housing law in the United States. Striking down the practice of “redlining” in Minnesota, the state’s black community became empowered to own and rent homes outside of existing geographical boundaries.
“Living Up to Your Moral Assignment”
Mahmoud El-Kati, professor emeritus of history at Macalester College in St. Paul, reflects on the African-American experience. From the earliest days of slavery in the United States through the 1960s, El-Kati discusses the impact of black newspapers, inventors and social reformers throughout American history and the civil rights movement.
“Lending Your Voice: The Power of the Vote”
Sharon Sayles Belton, former mayor of Minneapolis, grew up in the historic Rondo neighborhood of nearby St. Paul. Rondo, regarded as the center of the black community in the Twin Cities, was demolished when Interstate 94 was built through the community. As a college student, Sayles Belton became involved in the civil rights movement, traveling to register voters in the Deep South. Describing the experience as “frightening,” she witnessed violent objections to blacks exercising their right to vote.
“Choosing Love in Divisive Times”
Mayor Melvin Carter is a fourth-generation resident of St. Paul. His great-grandfather migrated to the city after witnessing a lynching in Paris, Texas. Carter shares his experiences with racism and discrimination in the 21st century, reflects on how the shooting of Philando Castile affected St. Paul’s residents, and advises that the choices Americans make have a distinct impact during divisive times.
“We are proud to recognize this group of exceptional individuals who have made an indelible mark on Minnesota and the nation with their work to champion the rights of all citizens,” said Ebonne Ruffins, vice president of Local Media Development for Comcast. “It is our goal to help tell their stories loud and clear so that future generations may know, understand and benefit from our collective history.”
A special ceremony was held at the Minnesota History Center, featuring short documentaries highlighting the work of each honoree. These stories have been added as part of the permanent collection on Comcast’s Xfinity On DemandTM, and at “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement” museum exhibits in Memphis, Tenn., and Washington, D.C. The Twin Cities profiles will also be available for viewing at the Minnesota History Center through January, 2019.
Also taking part in the evening’s celebration was life-long St. Paul resident Debbie Montgomery, who participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and served as St. Paul’s first female police officer. Phyllis Rawls Goff, president of the governing board at the Minnesota Historical Society and former co-chair of Facing Race Advisory Committee for the Saint Paul Foundation, served as the evening’s master of ceremonies.