Dinnertime on June 17th on University Avenue was a little more celebratory than usual. The Western Bank at 663 University Ave. dedicated a plaque and mounted it on the front of their building, commemorating the life of civil rights pioneer Fredrick McGhee. Big Daddy’s BBQ and live music by Walker West added to the festivities. The site was the former home of McGhee, who worked as Minnesota’s first African American attorney and civil rights leader in Minnesota from 1889 to 1912, when fewer than 3,500 African Americans lived in the state.
McGhee founded the predecessor to the NAACP, the Niagara Movement, working closely with Roy Wilkins and other civil rights leaders of the time. The Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (ASANDC) calls McGhee a “national civil rights activist and civic leader of tremendous influence and accomplishment.”
Born to slavery in Mississippi in 1861, McGhee and his family fled to Illinois, where he grew up to be an attorney. McGhee left a lucrative job and prominent position as an attorney in Chicago to serve the underrepresented African American population of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He came to Minnesota when there were no black physicians, dentists, teachers or attorneys. He came to St. Paul swinging, winning dozens of court cases and making a name for himself in one of the whitest metropolises in the nation. One of the few turn of the century African Americans of national prominence, McGhee was even chosen to be a presidential elector by the Minnesota Republican party in the spring of 1892, though he was later removed from the position.
Truly a great Minnesotan and a great American, the plaque dedicated to Fredrick McGhee is a testament to the still vibrant African American community in the Twin Cities.
— By Jake Kulju