African American Philanthropy in the Twin Cities: The Saint Paul Urban League

02 June 2015


In April 2015, I and another member of the Adam Matthew team embarked on a three-week trip to the Midwest of the United States. Our first stop was the ‘Flour Milling Capital of the World’ – Minneapolis and its twin city, Saint Paul.

James J. Hill House, Summit Avenue. Image licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

A love of all things Gilded Age resulted in a visit to the James H. Hill House in Saint Paul’s prestigious Summit Avenue, claimed by some to be the most beautiful residential street in the US. As we hopped off the metro and made our way towards the Railroad Tycoon’s mansion, I stumbled across a single-storey building emblazoned with the words ‘Saint Paul Urban League’. Having worked with the ‘National Urban League’ and ‘Chicago Urban League’ papers for our forthcoming resource African American Communities (publishing in Autumn 2015), the building was immediately familiar.

Saint Paul Urban League Headquarters, Selby Avenue. Photograph taken by Cai Parry-Jones.

Founded in 1923, thirteen years after the National Urban League (formerly known as the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes), the Saint Paul Urban League emerged in response to African-American migration to the city from the Deep South (part of what is now called ‘The Great Migration’) and the racial discrimination that African Americans encountered in employment and housing. Indeed, when the organisation was established it faced a great deal of criticism from local white business associations – they feared it would encourage further African-American migration to the city. Fortunately, such criticisms were overlooked and the Urban League’s activities flourished for the remainder of the twentieth century. Sadly, a lack of funding in recent years has put the organisation in financial jeopardy (in 2012, for instance, the headquarters for the Saint Paul branch had been vacant for months, and the building fell into disrepair) and its future currently looks uncertain.

Heading of the Saint Paul Urban League newsletter from December 1968. Image © University of Illinois at Chicago Library, Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Today, more than 100 local branches of the National Urban League can be found across the United States and the story of the Saint Paul Urban League forms just one aspect of the history of this national organisation that can be discovered in Adam Matthew’s forthcoming resource African American Communities.*

*Full access restricted to authenticated academic institutions who have purchased a license.

About the Author

Cai Parry-Jones

Cai Parry-Jones

I am an Editorial Assistant at Adam Matthew and my academic background lies in modern British-Jewish history. Since joining the editorial team in April 2014 I have had the opportunity to work on a number of exciting and diverse projects, including part one of ‘Colonial America' and our recently published resource 'African American Communities'.