How One SE MN Town Was Built With Diversity
On the week that marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination a weekend article in the Star Tribune shined a light on the town of Rushford and how a black man helped shape the town in the late 1800's and early 1900's. But what was a black man from Florida doing in a white town like Rushford more than a century ago? Rushford, Minnesota has a connection to the underground railroad which is probably why stonemason Lewis Pinkney, who was a black man, was living there in the late 1800's.
Before we get to that connection, let's first look at something that in this tumultuous time, that may be overlooked. Pinkney who was a master stonemason helped construct Rushford’s Lutheran and Episcopal churches, a former high school and a rectory house between 1899 and 1906. In a time where women and blacks still couldn't vote, a single man, who happened to be black, helped to construct a large portion of a town.
Now onto the underground railroad connection to Rushford, Pinkney was more than likely brought to Rushford by George and Harriet Stevens. George has been credited with helping to lay out the town and its financial beginnings. The Stevens’ were also known to have progressive, anti-slavery views. The Stevens' also were one of the first snowbirds here in Minnesota as they traveled down to Jacksonville, Florida to get away from the cold weather, and where they helped educate young African-American children by helping to build churches in Florida.
That Florida connection was the likely piece that brought a black stonemason from Florida to Minnesota, who then later helped build some iconic buildings right here in SE Minnesota.