Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Nellie Stone Johnson
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Description BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Nellie Allen was born on a farm in Pine County in 1904. Her father, William Allen, was active in local politics, always in the liberal wing. He helped to found the Finlayson Power cooperative and the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association, as well as serving on the school board, township board, and district board of the Rural Electrification Administration. He also participated in the Nonpartisan League, the Farm Holiday Association, and the Farmer-Labor Party. Nellie moved to Minneapolis in 1924 and finished her high school degree while working as a domestic servant and living with an aunt. She married Clyde Stone, though the marriage did not last. Ms. Stone supported herself by working in the Minneapolis Athletic Club, one of the few hotels which employed African Americans at the time. There she came in contact with the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union and became one of the key organizers of Local #665, and sat on the Local Joint Executive Board of the HRE. Through the labor movement, Ms. stone got deeply involved in the Farmer-Labor Association and Party. She was a member of the committee which worked out a merger of the Farmer-Labor Party and the Democratic Party in 1944. The next year she ran for the Library Board of Minneapolis on the new party's ticket and was elected, making her the first African American to hold elected office in the city. Her term lasted for six years, during which she pressed actively for fair employment practices legislation for the city and state. She decided against running for office again herself, preferring to sit in policy-making positions in the party itself. She had a brief rupture with the DFL in 1948, when she supported Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace for president instead of Democrat Harry Truman. The breach was healed, however, by the mid-1950s. In 1980 and 1984 she was elected to the Democratic National committee. In addition to her electoral and union activities, Ms. Johnson sat on the boards of both the Minneapolis National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League. (She remarried around 1949.) When she retired from the hotel industry (1963), she opened a tailoring business in downtown Minneapolis. She remained active in the HRE, and at the time of the interview was still involved in the reorganized Local #17. In 1986 she was appointed to the State University Board. Ms. Johnson had no children of her own. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Memories of growing up in a politically-active farm family in Pine County. African American community in the Twin Cities, 1920s and 1930s: economic conditions; participation in labor unions; Garveyism; relations with Jewish people; employment opportunities and discrimination; entertainment and nightlife; small business people. Impressions of Frank Boyd. Impressions of Roy Wier. African American support for and opinions of the Farmer-Labor Party. Conditions for African American workers at the Minneapolis Athletic Club, 1930s. Reaction to the Scottsboro case in the Twin cities, 1930s. Impressions of Cecil B. Newman and the Minneapolis Spokesman. Unemployed movement and unemployed demonstrations, 1930s. Efforts to secure civil rights legislation in Minneapolis and at the state level, 1940s and 1950s. Activities of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local #665 on behalf of African American workers. Impressions of Ralph Helstein and Douglas Hall. Memories of the 1934 truck drivers' strike in Minneapolis. Conflicts between Trotskyists and Stalinists, 1930s. Passage of the Minneapolis Fair Employment Practices Act, 1945-1947. Meatpacking industry in St. Paul: African American workers; Frank Alsup; 1948 strike. Impressions of Hubert Humphrey, 1930s and 1940s, and Swan Assarson's influence on Humphrey. Estimation of Elmer Benson's administration, and the 1938 gubernatorial campaigns. Relationship between the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations in Minneapolis, 1930s and 1940s. Memories of the 1939 strike of workers on the Works Progress Administration. Economic impact of the Second World War on Twin Cities African Americans, and especially the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant of the Federal Cartridge Corporation. Discrimination against African American workers in the defense industry, 1940s. Merger of the Democratic and Farmer-Labor Parties, 1944, and the discussions that led up to it. Presidential election of 1944. Elections of 1948. Red-baiting in the DFL and in the country at large, 1950s. Opinions of the Americans for Democratic Action. Estimation of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s; ideas for the future of the black community. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: This interview was done in a seminar style, with the interviewers asking questions reflecting their various interests. While it covers a long time span, and sticks to a chronological order, the interview is superficial and general, rather than detailed. The transcriber had difficulty distinguishing between the voices of Mr. Rachleff and Mr. Salerno, so speaker identification could be inaccurate.
Quantity 3 hours sound cassette
48 pages transcript
Format Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
Measurements 01:40:09 running time
Creation Interviewee: Johnson, Nellie Stone
Interviewer: Berman, Hyman
Interviewer: Gilman, Rhoda R.
Interviewer: Miller, Deborah L.
Interviewer: Rachleff, Peter J.
Interviewer: Ross, Carl E.
Interviewer: Salerno, Sal
Made in Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, United States
Subjects Made in Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, United States
Dates Creation: 03/01/1988
Holding Type Oral History - Interview
Identifiers OH 30
Accession Number AV1990.228.24
More Info MHS Library Catalog
Related Collections Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'

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