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The Experience of Ron Edwards

A Renaissance Black Man in a White Man's World

A Beacon for Freedom in the City

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July 3, 2003

To Minneapolis City Council:
R.T. Rybak, Mayor
Paul Ostrow, Council Member for Ward 1
Paul Zerby, CM for Ward 2
Donald Samuels, CM for Ward 3
Barbara Johnson, CM for Ward 4
Natalie Johnson-Lee, CM for Ward 5
Dean Zimmerman, CM for Ward 6
Lisa Goodman, CM for Ward 7
Robert Lilligren, CM for Ward 8
Gary Schiff, CM for Ward 9
Dan Niziolek, CM for Ward 10
Scott Benson, CM for Ward 11
Colvin Roy, CM for Ward 12
Barret Lane, CM for Ward 13

These are interesting times, exciting times. They remind me of the famous line on city tension at the beginning of Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities, when he wrote “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times?” Are you excited and happy or nervous and trembling as you contemplate all that is going on today in Minneapolis? Are you happy, sad, scared? Fear not. Hope and possibilities are here.

I have enclosed the book The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes for you because I know that you will want to benefit from the insights and suggested proposals of long time civil rights activist and leader, Ron Edwards that can lead away from the worst of times and lead toward the best of times. As City Pages put it 12-25-02, his book “connects the dots between his decades of activism and the current state of the city.” The book is as relevant today as it was last November, if not more so (I gave a copy to the Mayor last November, at Lucile’s Kitchen, and should have done the same for you; I apologize and am glad to make up for it at this time).

The book is witness to why many in Minneapolis give thanks to Ron Edwards for his work in civil rights on their behalf for over 40 years. To recap: 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.

So our questions are simple: whither goest Minneapolis in race relations? Whither goest Minneapolis Nice and the Golden Rule? For all in Minneapolis or just Whites and a few selected minorities? As City Pages asks, how shall the “rancor that has arisen between the Minneapolis Police Department and the city’s communities of color” be dealt with? What ought to be? How? Ron answers these questions in his book, which I am sending to all Minneapolis City Council Members and re-sending to the Mayor. You can also listen to Ron reading from the book, on 6 tracks, on the web site, at <> . 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 Ron writes the story of Blacks in American cities today from the perspective of Minneapolis, it is a perspective that fits any city. Does Minneapolis want to continue to be a leader in keeping Blacks in their place or be a leader in integrating them into the full life of the city? You and the Council decide.

Basketball fans say “Be like Mike.” For community leaders I suggest “Be like Ron”: talk the walk and walk the talk. He proposes solutions you can use to resolve the difficulties, which, again, could be used in any city and would make a great platform for change if used by the Minneapolis City Council. Ron has served, unpaid, as a tireless volunteer who works to meet the challenges of the day in order to help all meet the community challenges of the 21st century, Blacks and Whites, city, suburb and rural. He provides the process and framework for doing so. What a great ally he is for all concerned about civil rights, human rights and economic development across the board, a man who for 40 years has promoted, 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 orientation (liberal, conservative, moderate, mixtures), and regardless of neighborhood (urban, suburban, rural), 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 recognizes a lot of work yet to be done for the other half of the glass that is still empty. He presents a vision of achievable, practical possibilities for all.

Ron’s book is a beacon for the city if only the city will stand in its light. Too many Black and White leaders have lost their sense of being leaders of diverse groups and now too many want homogenous followers in terms of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, political orientation, neighborhood, etc.

Ron’s book demonstrates that he eloquently stands for what everyone else claims to stand for but often fear or don’t know how to go about attempting, and that is to achieve 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 an excellent 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 in Interlude 13 on the Tulsa Race Riots, and Rosewood, Florida in Interlude 8). Offered prejudice and discrimination, segregation and bias, while being denied equal access and denied equal opportunity, too many Blacks have been purposefully left behind.

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, urban and suburban and rural, 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 set of “Sullivan Principles for Minneapolis.” [Chapter 14]

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 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 [in 1991] 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 another 1991 cover story, this time 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 City Council, Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, 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 the historic wrongs perpetrated against minorities in general and Blacks in particular that need to be redressed and fixed. Some of the things The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes lists as needing to be redressed, for which Ron provides a process for doing so, as taken from the book, include, among others:

Key? Don’t label as “undermining” any attempts to modernize bad laws nor label as “a retreat” from existing commitments any effort to try new methods for achieving better results. He calls for an easy common denominator: following the Golden Rule, what JFK tried in attempting get Whites in the early 60s to drop Jim Crow laws, whether de jure or defacto (see Chapter 5). Ron discusses how a better future can be calculated in Interlude 16 and lays out the positive future possibilities for envisioning a dream for all and sustainable for all, using the common YESes and NOs (Chapters 5 and 17), and considering the “7 Values” of the Conclusion, all exercised under the civility and kind auspices of the Golden Rule. In Chapter 17, Ron also offers remedies for the redistricting problem. He also cites numerous sources where readers can go for further information on the topics he writes about.

Ron also outlines a basic problem: neither liberals nor conservatives think Blacks can make it on their own and thus need to be cared for by the State. Thus, the liberal “Kerner Commission Report” [1968] stated that Blacks aren’t like other immigrants and can’t make it on their own. The conservative “Bell Curve” [1998] stated Blacks don’t have high enough IQs to make it on their own. Both are racism at its “best.”

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 separate political party issues. He urges both to become part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem. Ron has the encouragement and the passion of the 1960s, which he combines with the mentoring process of a community elder, as he provides a sense of purpose and course to pursue that will benefit all.

What better weekend than this to ask Frederic Douglass’ question of 1852: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (quoted in Ron’s conclusion chapter) Ron wants it to be the 4th for all. Don’t you too? 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, If you have any further questions or wish to use the book for discussion groups, as some have suggested, or other uses, just let us at Beacon on the Hill Press know how we can help.

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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