Bowling for Equality

Bill Rhodman, Maurice Kilgore, C.W. Williams, Lafayette Allen, Len Griffin, and George Williams of the Allen Supermarket Team at the 1951 American Bowling Congress tournament in St. Paul, 1951

St. Paul played a role in desegregating organized bowling in the mid-twentieth century.

About 20 years ago, while researching Hubert Humphrey’s early civil rights advocacy, I came across a reference to his participation in a group called the National Committee for Fair Play in Bowling (NCFPB). Intrigued, I set off on a long journey of historical investigation that eventually uncovered this photograph, taken in St. Paul in 1951. It shows the members of the Allen Supermarket Team, six bowlers from Detroit who were just as much trailblazers in their sport as Jackie Robinson was in baseball.

In 1947, just four years before this photo was taken, the American Bowling Congress—the organization that controlled nearly every aspect of the country’s most popular amateur sport—voted to uphold its long-held “Caucasians-only” membership policy. Amid the stirrings of an incipient civil rights movement, the ABC was determined to show that African Americans and all other people of color were still, and always would be, unwelcome in the nation’s bowling alleys.

Opposition to the ABC and its racist policies burned brightest in Detroit, which was home to an impressive array of black-owned and black-welcoming bowling alleys unaffiliated with the ABC. With support from the NCFPB—an initiative of the United Auto Workers—African American leaders from Detroit and elsewhere began pressuring the ABC to change its ways. The organization finally capitulated and removed the racial ban from its constitution in 1950. Its first integrated tournament took place in St. Paul.

The Allen team finished in the middle of the pack in the St. Paul tournament, but their scores were almost beside the point. They had become, in the words of the team’s sponsor and captain, Lafayette Allen, “the first to be admitted as competitive individuals in the sport we love, for participation, regardless of the color of our skin.”

Minnesota’s role in desegregating bowling was mostly incidental, but Minnesotans can still take some pride in knowing that a significant moment in civil rights and sports history happened here. “In my book, the Twin Cities are the ‘Queen Cities’ of America,” Lafayette Allen wrote of his team’s experience in St. Paul. “Congeniality and fair play are the passwords in those wonderful cities.”

On This Day in 1974: Stud or Dud?

Advertisement Featuring Secretariat’s First-born Foal, First Secretary.
Photo via Equiery, December 2003

Secretariat didn’t have much luck in the paternity business until a Minnesotan took a chance on him.

1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat was one of the greatest racehorses of all time, but his performance in the breeding shed didn’t live up to his reputation on the track—at least not at first. His initial failure as a stud inspired all sorts of jokes (President Gerald Ford even got in on the act, cracking that his critics, like Secretariat, were “fast on their feet, but not producing much”) and threatened to reduce his value. But Secretariat’s reproductive struggles weren’t enough to stop Jack Nankivil, a breeder from Winona, Minnesota, from taking a chance on him. Secretariat had recently been bred to a Kentucky Appaloosa named Leola, and Nankivil purchased the pregnant mare in hopes that she would successfully carry her foal to term. He brought her to Winona, and on the night of November 15, 1974, with television news crews from NBC and CBS waiting in a nearby tack room (Nankivil had banned ABC in reaction to sportscaster Howard Cosell’s disparaging remarks about the Minnesota Vikings), Leola gave birth to a chestnut colt with a white blanket and three white stockings. Nankivil named Secretariat’s first foal—surprise—First Secretary.

The Power of Pressure Campaigns

Pillsbury thought these Funny Face flavors were a good idea—until activists spoke up.

As pro teams in DC and Cleveland consider dumping names offensive to indigenous people, here’s a reminder to keep up the pressure.

Originally published in the Minneapolis StarTribune, during a previous, unsuccessful attempt to force the “Redskins” into retirement

Sometimes it seems the long struggle to force the NFL’s Washington Redskins franchise to change its name is destined to fail. Many Minnesotans remember the scene in 1992, when the American Indian Movement and its supporters organized symposiums and protests to coincide with the Washington team’s Super Bowl appearance at the Metrodome. Nothing much changed then. The Redskins remained the Redskins. Today, the team and its fans continue to embrace a name and logo that many others consider blatantly offensive. It would be easy to conclude that protest against corporate misappropriation of American Indian culture is futile.

But it’s not. It’s worked before. And a few of the most memorable success stories played out here in Minnesota.

In 1964, Minneapolis-based Pillsbury introduced a new line of powdered soft drink mixes to compete with Kool-Aid. Pillsbury called its new, sugar-free product Funny Face. (Its artificial sweetener, sodium cyclamate, was later linked to cancer and banned by the FDA, but that’s a different story.) Each Funny Face flavor was named for a silly character: Goofy Grape, Loud-Mouth Lime, Freckle-Face Strawberry, Rootin’-Tootin’ Raspberry, and two others that soon created major public relations headaches at Pillsbury—Chinese Cherry and Injun Orange.

The Chinese Cherry character was a slant-eyed red cherry with buckteeth and a pigtail. Injun Orange, with his crossed eyes, skewed war paint, and limp feathers, smiled insipidly in a nearly perfect distillation of negative Native American stereotypes. Both characters, along with their less offensive product line-mates, were big hits with kids and parents alike.

But this was the height of the modern Civil Rights era. Minority groups were finding their voice, and they were not inclined to let corporate America get away with insensitive and insulting marketing campaigns. In early 1966, the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) called on Pillsbury to dump both Injun Orange and Chinese Cherry. The group claimed that the two characters’ “derogatory nature” was “highly objectionable.”

It was only after the AAIA went public with its anti-Funny Face campaign that Pillsbury announced it was already phasing out the two characters. It turned out that several other groups, including Chinese-American grocers in Sacramento, had filed similar complaints. “We admit guilt all over the lot,” a Pillsbury spokesman said. “It was in poor taste. We quickly saw our fault and as early as last July we decided to change the names.” Chinese Cherry became Choo Choo Cherry. Injun Orange turned into Jolly Olly Orange.

If the campaign to dispatch Injun Orange had constituted the only successful protest against corporate-perpetuated Native American stereotypes, then perhaps it would make sense to write off as unwinnable the current campaign against the Washington Redskins name. But Pillsbury was just one in a string of companies that were convinced to change their stereotyping ways in the 1960s and beyond. In 1965, Calvert Distillers, under pressure from the AAIA and other American Indian groups, dropped a “soft whisky” ad that read in part: “The Indians didn’t call whisky firewater for nothing. Why do you think they were yelping all the time?” A year later, the AAIA scored a similar victory against the Marx Toys Company, manufacturer of a vulgar children’s doll called “Nutty Mad Indian.” And in 1967, Roger Jourdain, chairman of Minnesota’s Red Lake Band of Chippewa, helped convince General Electric to pull an ad featuring rambunctious white youngsters dressed in Indian costume. The copy for the ad read, “When you decide to shoot wild Indians, you can’t afford to miss.”

Of course Pillsbury, Calvert, Marx, and General Electric were not football franchises. They did not have rabid fans, steeped in the “traditions” that a team name and logo can come to represent. But those companies—and many others over the years—have succumbed to pressure after realizing they failed to consider the damage their marketing might do. It’s not hard to imagine that the NFL team from Washington will eventually do the same.

What We’ve Lost: Grandma’s

While we’ve lost way too many lives to COVID-19, we also have lost many things that we previously took for granted.

The inaugural running of Grandma’s Marathon between Two Harbors and Duluth took place 43 years ago today, on June 25, 1977. Only 150 runners participated in that first race. The winner was Olympian and Duluth native Garry Bjorklund. The gentleman in this photo, Alex Ratelle, was, at 52, the oldest runner in the 1977 race. He finished fourth. He went on to compete in 21 straight Grandma’s.

Photo via Duluth News-Tribune