Next week marks the anniversary of the tragic, now-world infamous police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It has been a year of mourning, of anger, angst, and anxiety, of trauma, of uncertainty and fear. To mark this inauspicous milestone, the Minnesota Historical Society Press has produced a new book entitled Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion. Sparked is a collection of powerful, first-person essays from scholars and other civic leaders documenting how the lived experiences of people of color in the Twin Cities, especially Black residents, stand in contrast to Minnesota’s progressive civic reputation and ideals. It is a book that we believe can be the basis for further, meaningful reflection, even reckoning, with Minnesota’s complicated history with race, racial disparity, white supremacy, and racism itself.
We are proud to say that we here at the Society Pages played a role in helping bring this book into being. It started within days of Floyd’s killing last June. Our former colleague and long-time TSP contributor Walt Jacobs approached us with the idea of doing a small series of essays from scholars, mostly scholars of color, who had worked or studied at the University of Minnesota and since left. He wanted them to write about their experiences of race and racism in Minneapolis and Minnesota more broadly. Jacobs’ core idea was to capture the complexity of race in Minnesota–not only the tragedies and traumas but also the deep paradoxes and even possibilities one encountered in the Twin Cities. This tension was reflected in the series title: “Wretched / Wonderful.”
Amid the trauma and chaos of the summer of 2020, supporting and editing this series felt like something constructive we could do–something rather small and symbolic but constructive nonetheless. Little did we know what it would turn into.
Working with Walt in the weeks that followed, we received dozens of inquiries and requests about the series, from folks eager wanting to know whether if and how they could to contribute to it. With the help of our amazing TSP editor and board member Amy August (now a professor at San Jose State University and one of the co-editors of the MNHSP book with Walt and Wendy Thompson Taiwo), we edited and published over 20 essays over the course of the summer.
These essays would become the backbone of the Sparked volume. In celebration and support of the book, we will–over the course of coming weeks–be re-running the essays that first appeared on TSP last summer in their original form. We do this to recapture the intimacy and immediacy of the essays–and again with great pride in the role our team and these authors played in helping to bring Sparked into being. We will also share some short supplementary discussion materials and questions, developed by Edgar Campos and the editorial teams at Sparked and TSP.
The Historical Society is sponsoring a special launch event tonight featuring four of the book’s contributors–including Walt himself!–talking about the paradoxes and challenges of race and racism in Minnesota and what meaningful steps toward racial justice might look like. We hope it will be the first of many such conversations to come. Details can be found at this link.