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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Nellie Stone Johnson
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 - 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: Organizing drive for HRE Local #665 at the Minneapolis Athletic Club. Employment of African Americans in the hotel and restaurant industry, 1920s and 1930s. Wage and benefit differences between female and male workers, and African and Euro American workers, 1930s and 1940s. Opinions about the involvement of African Americans in the labor movement in the 1980s, and the attitudes of black elected officials. Assessment of organized labor's influence on Hubert Humphrey, especially through the United Labor Committee. Role of Local #665 and Local #1145 of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers Union in advocating for civil rights in Minneapolis. Establishment of the State Council of Culinary Workers and Minnesota Federation of Labor's outreach department, 1940s. Description of Local #665's membership meetings and estimation of the local's leadership. Impressions of Swan Assarson. Working conditions at the Athletic Club which led to unionization. Support activities during the 1934 truck driver's strike, and assessment of the importance of that strike to the Minneapolis labor movement. Racial segregation within the workforce of the Athletic Club. Equalizing wages and benefits between African and Euro American workers under the union contracts. Strike at Miller's Cafeteria, 1941. Interracial dating in the 1940s and 1950s. Impressions of Hubert Humphrey, 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: The interview took place in Ms. Johnson's tailoring shop, and she evidentially was working, because she moved away from the microphone a lot. There were several interruptions in the interview when customers came into the shop. These have been edited out of the transcript.
2 hours sound cassette
16 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
02:33:16 running time
Interviewee: Johnson, Nellie Stone
Interviewer: Ross, Carl
Made in: Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30.37 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.64 (Accession Number)
MNHS Library Catalog
Collection Finding Aid
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'