I am proud to make Saint Paul my home, as I feel the African American people of Saint Paul are strong, proud people.
The first sixteen years of my life were spent in Minneapolis in a poor White neighborhood. My siblings and I were the only Black children in the schools we attended. Yes, there was a great deal of prejudice in our community. Little children don’t know hate; they have to be taught. Even though my White friends’ parents may not have liked their children being friends with us, most of them accepted it because they loved their children more than they hated us.
Some families were not accepting and forbade their children to be friends with us, and would beat their kids when they found that they had played with us anyway. I was really hurt when my best friend showed up totally bruised because of our friendship. Nevertheless, she refused to end our friendship.
Even though I enjoyed my childhood and had lots of friends, I longed for the day I could be with and associate with Black people. That day came when I entered Minneapolis Central High School. To my surprise, I found I was not welcome into their group. I felt like the little lion cub, Elsa, who was raised by humans and longed to be with her own kind when she came of age. She was not welcome because the wild lions could smell the humans on her and her behavior was different. I was not accepted because my speech and mannerisms were White. I was an Oreo cookie, Black on the outside and White on the inside. The Black kids detected it right away. I had to learn to be Black. For two hard years I worked at becoming Black.
In 1953, there was an upheaval in my family, and my siblings and I were separated and went to different foster homes. I came to Saint Paul as a foster child. My new foster parents were very nice people with a son and a daughter. They introduced me to their friends who were reluctant to accept me. I just couldn’t go through trying to fit in with people who didn’t accept me again.
I played the piano and my foster family didn’t have one, so I used to go over to St. James AME Church, on Central and Dale Street, to use the piano. I met a group of teenagers that hung out there. They were very friendly and accepted me. That was the beginning of the happiest years of my life. I have a hard time understanding people who put down foster homes, but maybe mine was unique. Maybe God blessed me with a really nice foster home and a personality that gets along with most everyone. I remained in my foster home until I was twenty-one and got married. Later, I found that that is very unusual, as foster children are required to leave at age eighteen.
My new friends and I spent many happy hours hanging out at Field’s Drugstore, Hallie Q. Brown Center, and St. James AME Church. St. James had a youth program, which kept us occupied.
It was a wonderful time of life. I look back on those days when Black people did not have equal opportunity and were forced to live in the “Black Belt,” now known as the ghetto. There was freedom in our community. Our community was free of crime, drugs, and prostitution, and no one would bother you if you were walking down the street late at night.
In 1980, burglaries, drugs, and prostitution moved in to our community. Ron Pauline founded Aurora/St. Anthony NDC (Neighborhood Development Corporation), to address the problem. He taught us pride in where we live. He pointed out that we have prime property in this city because you could get on the bus and go anywhere in the Twin Cities you wanted to go. Everything we needed was within our reach by bus. I am proud of my neighborhood, and raised two fine children in this community.
When people recognized de facto segregation, many Black people moved out of the neighborhood and into White neighborhoods and suburbs. I stayed right here, because I never wanted my children to grow up not knowing their own people or feeling that the only way they can achieve is through White people. Ghetto is a word that means a place where people live because of race, creed, or color. It does not mean that you are ignorant, uneducated, or poor. No one should feel shame because they live in a ghetto. The shame is on the people who put you there.
I continue to work with Aurora/St. Anthony NDC because not only is it working to preserve this historic community, but, also, it teaches Black people pride in themselves. That is very important.
Patricia Black continues to work with Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation because the organization works to preserve this historic community and, also, teaches Black people to have pride in themselves. That is very important.