Jim Brown has been a volunteer at the Minnesota Historical Society for eight years. During this time he has contributed over 1,300 hours and has volunteered in at least twelve program areas. He was a volunteer for the Our Gathering Places exhibit and helped recruit volunteers throughout its seven year run. When we wanted to gather nominations for Minnesota 150, Jim was a natural choice to be an advisor for us. He worked with Society staff to gather together former volunteers and other members of the African American community to learn what would be important nominations from them. Out of their conversations came many nominations. Their work helps assure that the stories of African American Minnesotans can be told.
Until the 1960s the Minnesota Historical Society, like many historical organizations, primarily told the stories of main-street Minnesota. The Society’s concern for documenting and telling a broader, more representative story has grown steadily over the past 40 years. But how does a 150-year-old institution break barriers and make all people of the state of Minnesota feel welcome and comfortable sharing their stories and being engaged in history?
The work on Our Gathering Places exhibit, curated by David Taylor, was a starting point and Jim Brown’s work was instrumental in its success. He was a leader in recruiting members of the African American community to serve on its advisory board and to volunteer in the exhibit. Because he is a thoughtful and interested individual, he could talk about tough issues with no barriers and open doors for conversations that needed to take place as the Society developed that exhibit and its programs.
Jim is also an accomplished writer. His published stories, which poignantly recount daily life growing up in his Frogtown neighborhood, his zest for life, the injustices he experienced, are stories that tell of the African American experience. In addition to writing, he has conducted research on many historical topics and shared this work with the Historical Society staff and others. His interests range from African American baseball players to Dred Scott. Through this work, he has helped us tell their stories.
Jim has a gift of interacting with people. He engages them in conversations. He enjoys interacting with everyone; he has a magnetic personality. He can genuinely make people feel special.
I nominate Jim Brown as an unsung hero, a person who has changed the landscape of the Society and engages people in the community so that they share their stories and make our community a better place to live.
~Jean Nierenhausen, Little Canada, MN
James Brown is a mentor and a communicator. He is an advocate for the community. I think he was in the service and he played an important role in the service. He had a family. He talks to people and tries to encourage them to do their best and try to help other people. He's an advocate for people doing things. His role in the African-American community is as a mentor.
~Marjorie Tendle, Minneapolis, MN