Fergus Falls (Otter Tail County, Minnesota)(start date: 1897)
Around 1849 40 free African Americans, most of whom were from Virginia and Kentucky, arrived near what is today St. Paul, MN. Minnesota had recently been organized as a territory; small groups of Kentuckians would continue to make their way to the area for the next half century.
In 1896, real-estate agents distributed fliers to Kentucky African American veterans visiting the fairgrounds in St. Paul; the fliers highlighted Fergus Falls as a good settlement area. About 50 African Americans from around Bowling Green, KY moved to Fergus Falls in 1897, joining others who had been there since the end of the Civil War. The community was described in a newspaper article as "the first exclusive Colored colony in Minnesota." The family of Kentucky-born activist Mary Lee Johnson moved to the area sometime after 1910.
The lack of suitable homesteads and employment led many to leave the area. By 1970 only 15 residents remained in the African American community of Fergus Falls.
For more see the quotation in "Colored colony," Illinois Record, 5/14/1898, p. 2; African Americans in Minnesota, by D. V. Taylor; and P. Miller, "Activist Mary Lee Johnson dies," Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities, 10/12/1997, News section, p. 7B. See also J. C. Anderson, "Fergus Falls 'First 85' Reunion celebrates Black role in how the West was won (photos)," Huffpost, Black Voices 8/11/2012 (online); Curt Brown, "In all-white Fergus Falls, early black settlers 'toed the mark'," 2/17/2018, in the StarTribune online; Johanna Armstrong, "History remembered: Hermes talk to focus on African American heritage in OTC," 9/29/2020, in the Fergus Falls Daily Journal online; and Luke Taylor, "'So many stories to tell': Minneapolis Sound luminaries trace their roots to historic Fergus Falls black community," 7/19/2018, in the current online.