News & Events

Black History Month

Join us every Monday this February to learn more about Black History.

This Monday we have a story about George Bonga, the first recorded African American birth in Minnesota. George was born near Duluth in 1802 and was the son of an African American fur trader father and an Ojibwe mother. Bonga attended school in Montreal. When he later returned to the Great Lakes area to become a fur trader with the American Fur Company, he spoke fluent English, French and Ojibwe. While working for the company, he was hired as a guide and translator to help Lewis Cass in negotiations with the Ojibwe, his signature is on treaties made in 1820 and 1867. Bonga wrote letters on behalf of the Ojibwe to the state government about white men who treated Ojibwe trappers unfairly.

Move over Paul Bunyan, George Bonga is a REAL Minnesota legend!




As we celebrate Black History Month, we’re honoring a man with incredible work in medicine and social justice. Freedom, education, and access to health care were opportunities all too often out of reach to African Americans when James McCune Smith was born. Dr.Smith was born on April 18th,1813 in Manhattan, New York. He went on to be the first African American to hold a medical degree and the first African American to run a pharmacy. Because no American university was willing to admit him, he was forced to travel to Scotland to earn his degree from the University of Glasgow. After graduating in 1837, he practiced medicine for nearly two decades at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Manhattan, contributed papers to scholarly journals, and was widely respected as an intellectual. He was an abolitionist who helped enslaved people escape and find their way to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Dr. Smith remained a champion for economic and social justice until his death in 1865.

Wangari Maathai was born April 1st, 1940 and was the first Black African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in environmental conservation. She was a pioneer in linking environmental protection with human rights. In the 1970s, Wangari founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on environmental conservation and women’s rights. She was also an elected member of Parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources between 2003 and 2005. Throughout this time, her organization planted over 3 million trees. At age 71 on September 25th Wangari Maathai passed away. She will always be remembered for devoting her life to promoting the environment and democracy.
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