A Minneapolis-sponsored summer lecture series on “The African-American Experience” will begin next month at City Hall, but “sacred conversations” postponed after they drew sharp criticism for dividing city staffers by race have yet to be rescheduled.
Unlike the conversations, which were to be in separate rooms for black- and white- “bodied” staffers, the lectures will be open to the public.
The Division of Race and Equity in the City Coordinator’s Office scheduled the conversations and is producing the lecture series. The first lecture will “give space to participants to remember who African-Americans were before 1619,” according to published notices.
That will include “collectively” exploring what happened to slaves and what slavery looked like in Minnesota. Questions include “What are the narratives of personal and communal resistance?”
St. Cloud State University historian Christopher Lehman, whose book “Slavery’s Reach: Southern Slaveholders in the North Star State” will be published this fall, will speak. He has written about Southern slaveholders vacationing in the North.
Although slavery was never legal in Minnesota, its legacy has lingered in other ways, such as in the naming of Minneapolis’ largest lake. It was named for Sen. John Calhoun of South Carolina after he ordered the construction of Fort Snelling. There has recently been an effort to reinstate its Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska.
Similarly, there have been discussions at the University of Minnesota about the names of buildings there.
City spokesman Casper Hill said there are no additional dates for the summer series to share at this time.
In early June, City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde called off the “sacred conversation” sessions, saying the city doesn’t divide people based on race, ethnicity or any other protected class.
The plans drew attention from Washington, D.C., where U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow sent a letter to Mayor Jacob Frey that mocked the conversations as “galactically stupid.” Frey’s office didn’t plan the events.
“When planning workplace functions, it’s usually a good idea to ask, ‘Could this be mistaken for an episode of ‘The Office?’ ” Unfortunately, someone in Minneapolis city government forgot to ask this basic question,” Kirsanow wrote.
He urged the city to cancel “sacred conversations” entirely. “And please, don’t replace it with ‘Diversity Day,’ ” he wrote.