by John Teisberg, Becketwood Member
The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States caused me to reflect on how some things have changed in my lifetime. While a student at Concordia (’54-’58) I had heard that when the Harlem Globetrotters had played in the Fargo-Moorhead area in 1954 they couldn’t be served in any of the local restaurants. And that the owners of the Fargo Café, a couple of Chinese ancestry, let them come in the back door and eat in the kitchen.
Wondering if this was true, I asked a classmate, Peter Grottodden, about this. He hadn’t heard that story but he’d heard that when Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson came to sing (at different times) they couldn’t stay at any local hotels but stayed at the home of Superintendent of Schools Reinertsen.
Now I had more to check on so I contacted Dr. Paul Dovre who referred me to Carroll Engelhardt (who wrote On Firm Foundation Grounded: the First Century of Concordia College) who referred me to Mr. Mark Peihl, the archivist for the Clay County Historical Society. He had a wealth of information.
Mr. Peihl hadn’t heard the Globetrotters story but didn’t doubt it could have occurred. He had heard that when the Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the old Northern League played a team with some black ballplayers, that team had to stay at the Metropole Hotel, the only hotel that would house them. (Peter remembered playing pinball machines at the Bison Hotel around 1957 with Willie McCovey, a black baseball star who was with the San Francisco Giants.)
Mr. Peihl couldn’t verify the Paul Robeson story but when Marian Anderson was there in 1938 she stayed at the home of Dr. Gosslee, resident director of Moorhead State Teachers College at that time. She returned in 1946 and Joe Kise, a political science professor, threatened the manager of the Comstock Hotel with legal action if she was not permitted to stay there and she did stay there. All this took place in this community of good Scandinavian and German Lutherans and Catholics.
The Ku Klux Klan was active in the Red River Valley from about 1922 until 1926. The shortage of blacks made the Klan expand their hatred to Catholics, Jews, immigrants, divorced persons, and anyone who didn’t live up to their expectations. The Klan was more successful in smaller towns, although Grand Forks was a hotbed of activity. In 1925 the Grand Dragon of Indiana kidnapped, beat, and sexually assaulted a young woman. When she attempted suicide, he refused to get her medical attention and she died and he went to prison. Gradually, interest in the Klan faded in the area.
Years ago, I asked a wise preacher what it would take to change some of the attitudes in our church. He said, “Fifty years of funerals.” This rule of thumb might also apply to politics.
This article appeared in the Concordian, the student newspaper for Concordia College in Moorhead, early in 2009, under the title "Racism in Fargo-Moorhead."