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The Experience of Ron Edwards

A Renaissance Black Man in a White Man's World

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July 3, 2003

To the National NAACP Executive Officers
Kweisi Mfume, President and Chief Executive Officer
Julian Bond <>, Chair
Roslyn Brock <>, Vice Chair
Francisco Borges <>, Treasurer
Carolyn Coleman <>
Coleman Peterson <>
Roy Williams <>

From Beacon on the Press

It is exciting to contemplate the upcoming 94th Annual NAACP Convention in Miami, July 12-17-03. May it be all you want it to be. I am writing to all of you Executive Officers, including your Chairman and your CEO/President, and sending each of you a copy of the enclosed book, The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes for you because I know that you will enjoy the book in and of itself, as it is really the story of every city, and because I am hopeful that you will be able to celebrate its author, another fine Black civil rights activist and leader, either at Miami or afterwards.

The book is witness to why many in Minneapolis believe its author should be positively recognized at your 94th annual meeting for his work in civil rights. It would also serve as a healing moment for the NAACP, nationally and locally. Ron was Chairman of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission from 1979-1983 (Vice-Chairman, 1967-1972); President, Chairman of the Urban League (1978-1989), and served on the Minneapolis branch NAACP Executive Committee, 1999-2002, as well as other positions for the branch and the Minnesota-South Dakota NAACP. He has served as the spokesman for the Black Police Officer’s Association in Minneapolis since 1996.

I don’t know of anyone more committed to following your web page statement of following “the objective of insuring the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority groups” than this key civil rights worker and community activist of Minneapolis, Ron Edwards. Indeed, he addresses the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority groups in separate chapters of his book. Certainly, in terms of your NAACP web site statement, Ron Edwards is one “of America’s greatest minds [to] have worked to effect change.” His book, The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes, could just as easily have been called the New York City Story or Newark Story or Detroit Story or St. Louis Story or Cleveland Story or Kansas City Story or L.A. Story or San Francisco Story, or Atlanta Story or Washington, D.C. Story, etc. In other words, although he writes the story of Blacks in American cities today from the perspective of Minneapolis, it is a perspective that fits any city. You can also listen to Ron reading from the book, on 6 tracks, on the web site, at

But Ron goes further. He not only talks the walk, he walks the talk: he proposes solutions to resolve the difficulties, which, again, could be used in any city and would make great platforms for change for use by the NAACP across the country. And certainly your description of the NAACP describes Ron, for Ron has served, unpaid. He is a “tireless volunteer” who works “to meet the challenges of the day, while remaining true to [the] original mission. With renewed commitment, [Ron] is poised to meet the challenges of the 21st century.” In a word, Ron shares the Kweisi Mfume dream to “impact society and shape a more humane public policy.” And he provides the process and framework for doing so. What a great ally he is for all concerned about civil and human rights across the board, and who promotes, in the words of the Preamble to our Constitution, “a more perfect Union,…Justice,…domestic Tranquility,…general Welfare, and…the blessings of Liberty” for every citizen, regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, political party, neighborhood, etc.

Ron’s story is a positive story of hope, patience and perseverance, of the celebration of life in America, of an appreciation of a glass half full that means a lot of work is yet to be done for the other half of the glass that is still empty. He presents a vision of achievable, practical possibilities.

For the NAACP to recognize Ron’s book as a beacon to other cities, as an invitation for them to tell the story of their cities as well, would provide a big boost for the NAACP nationwide. Finally, doing so will enable the NAACP to set a positive example for local NAACP branches across the country. As you know, the NAACP branch in Minneapolis kicked Ron out, then banned him, and then demanded an apology for what he said about the NAACP in his book (his comments are in Chapter 14).

This surprised me, given his quotes in the same chapter of Julian Bond. In my naiveté, I thought the NAACP would appreciate his sense of humor and use it to inspire everyone to get back on track, and follow the words of Julian Bond. I didn’t expect them to take it as an attack on the local branch, especially in light of the comments of others that he quotes in the same chapter. My perspective was that they and Ron were standing on common ground. The local branch obviously didn’t take it that way. A Black leader here in Portland sometimes refers to her adult charges as “her children,” and I suspect you may sometimes think the same regarding local branches, as you breath out a sigh. It causes all of us to give out individual and collective sighs.

The local NAACP branch has veered from the NAACP. As it has moved from being a “guide on the side” to wanting to be the “sage on the stage,” it has lost the sense of being a leader of diversity and now wants homogenous followers. Recognizing Ron at your convention would help to revitalize the local branch and local branches everywhere as well as heal the unnecessary misunderstandings. The hard data is inescapable. The many stories in the Minneapolis Black newspaper Spokesman-Recorder and pictures detailing the local branch’s secret meetings is one of the reasons why (1) it has little credibility, especially among the young, and thus (2) the branch has only 450 members out of over 100,000 Blacks in Minneapolis, who too often follow the local White leadership rather than the NAACP, which resulted in (3) its last election dynamics to prevent Ron from being elected, which included brining in Whites to vote against him as well as pull “a Florida” on Ron’s Black supporters by disqualifying them. As a result, 85% of those voting for the election’s winner were White. The good news is that civil rights leaders like Ron Edwards can still work with you to help bring credibility back.

Ron’s book demonstrates that he eloquently stands for all that the NAACP stands for: a diverse economy of living-wage jobs that includes locally based independent businesses owned by both Blacks and Whites, all living in decent housing while their kids get a decent education. Ron’s Interlude 8, “Torn from the Land,” shows how the land and wealth of Blacks were taken in this country, whether by de jure or de facto Jim Crow laws, as well as by such extra-legal means as the burning to the ground of whole towns, as in Greenwood, Oklahoma (see Interlude 13 on the Tulsa Race Riots), and Rosewood, Florida (see Interlude 8). Blacks have been offered prejudice and discrimination, segregation and bias, while being denied equal access and denied equal opportunity, in order to purposefully leave Blacks behind. Ron has an analysis and solution for this.

To briefly review Ron’s book: Ron writes in a compelling way about the PAST (see his almost love sonnet to Minneapolis in Chapter 15, the 7 paragraphs beginning on p. 262 with “Society needs visionaries.” He also writes about the identifying characteristics of Minneapolis, positive and negative, that have led us to where Minneapolis is today (Chapter 6), and he sets out his philosophy (Chapter 4) as he singles out justice and fairness as it relates to equal access and opportunity (Chapter 5). He unveils the truth about the PRESENT in his chapters on the courts (Chapter 3), education (Chapter 7), housing (Chapter 8), jobs (Chapter 9), the university (Chapter 10), city government (Chapter 11), redistricting (Chapters 12-13), the local branches of the NAACP and the Urban League (Chapter 14), the set up to kick the Vikings out of town (Chapter 15), and about community-police relations and mediation (Chapter 16). And now the table turns as Ron becomes the visionary writing about the FUTURE in a most positive and challenging way as he lays out the common ground all Minneapolis citizens and Minnesotans can agree to, Black and White, male and female, with his common YESes and common NOs, and other suggestions for taking today into tomorrow (see Chapter 5, Interlude 16, Chapter 17, and the Conclusion), including suggesting the establishment of a Sullivan Principles for Minneapolis.

The book uses the term “racism” and “racist.” These terms are not used to emotionally obscure fuzzy thinking about the causes of poverty, inequality, different levels of school achievement, etc., about which there is much debate (but, as Ron says Nellie Stone Johnson always used to tell him, “No education, no housing, no hope”). Ron uses the terms to build on the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s 1991 series on racism in Minnesota (”Issues of Race”) as he notes in Interlude 2. The terms refer to the prejudice, discrimination, segregation, bigotry, and bias used to deny equal access and equal opportunity, something Whites did not see as an issue but non-Whites did. However, Ron is not unmindful of the progress that has been made, as he demonstrates in Interludes, 5 and 7, which he calls “The Good News On Race, Parts I and II.” He also recognizes that any glass that is half full is also half empty, as in Interlude 10, which discusses the racism in Minneapolis as reported in a 1991 cover story of the Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Ron seeks equal access and opportunity for all, whether inner city or in any ring of the suburbs or rural.

As noted above, Ron recognizes that “Society needs visionaries,” be they organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League or individuals such as those he writes about in his book: George Washington Carver, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Nelly Stone Johnson, A. Philip Randolph, Adam Clayton Powell, and others.

Ron understands the Minneapolis Story, its successes and pride as well as its historic wrongs perpetrated against minorities in general and Blacks in particular that need to be redressed and fixed. The reason I call recognizing Ron for his contributions would be a healing moment is because he recognizes that it takes two to tango, that the problems have been because of both White and Black organizations. Ron straddles both the Black and White communities, the city and the suburbs. Ron gives a fair hearing to the issues of importance to both the minority and majority communities in such a way that they can both deal with the issues together rather than make them political party issues. The NAACP can help lead the way, and under that leadership, working together, we can make democracy work.

Ron has long enjoyed and been concerned about the NAACP, just as other reasonable men have their concerns about their organizations, such as the concerns of Julian Bond that Ron quotes in Chapter 14. Ron raises the perennial question of how can Black organizations in Minneapolis expect to truly serve Blacks and ALL of Minneapolis if they treat the organizations as private entities for the benefit of a few.

This is a wonderful time of opportunity for organizations like the NAACP to rise to the challenge of getting people to keep their collective eye on the prize. And who better than Ron to help bridge the gap between the older leaders and the young leaders today? The up and coming young leaders are being understandably very vocal about how they feel frozen out by the older ones (many of who have forgotten that they were once young and also rebelled against their elders and didn’t ask their permission, which is the way of the world, generation to generation) and yet now tell the new younger generation they have to ask their elders for permission. Can you imagine what energy and progress could be made if they could all coalesce into a moving coalition to address the common problems together, using the common ground solution process outlined in Ron’s book?

You can continue to follow Ron’s thoughts on his weekly column and his daily web log, both of which appear on his web page,

Recognizing and honoring the contributions of Ron would help all of this take a giant step forward. If you have any further questions or wish to use the book for discussion groups or other uses, or if Beacon on the Hill can help in any other way, please let me know. By the way, as your address listed on the NAACP web page has not been updated, I’m sending this to the NAACP office.

Sincerely yours,

Peter Jessen
CEO, Publisher

Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm. Formerly head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Urban League, he continues his “watchdog” role for Minneapolis. Order his book, hear his voice, read his solution papers, and read his between columns “web log” at

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