FARGO — You might have noticed over the last couple of months, InForum has amped up its offerings of historical stories. Our readers and viewers have told us they enjoy walking down memory lane to the recent past and also learning more about life years ago.
With the help of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County Archives, the NDSU Archives and the State Historical Society of North Dakota, we’ve been able to bring those stories to life through image and film.
Most of the time when you see the old images or watch the old film, it’s pretty clear what period of history they are set.
For example, it’s pretty clear this picture of employees of the Herbst Department store hair salon was taken in the 1920s or early ‘30s based upon the women’s short, finger waves or Marcel waves hair style.
Or it's easy to see that a recent photo we shared of Boyd Christenson and Verna Newell on the talk show "Party Line" was taken in the 1970’s, mostly because of Christenson’s completely groovy, polyester ensemble. It makes one think that Boyd could get up at any moment and “Do the Hustle.”
However, once in awhile you find surprises — something that pops up from the archives that could very likely fit into today's news websites or TV news broadcasts without anyone blinking an eye. That’s the case for a snippet of film we uncovered from "Party Line", dated Oct 10, 1969.
As we told you last week, “Party Line” was an afternoon talk show that aired on WDAY-TV from 3-4 p.m. from 1957 to 1979. The content of the show is what you might expect — a few celebrity interviews, community information, helpful hints and cooking demonstrations. However, the show was also timely in its interviews with newsmakers of the day. In fact, one guest on that day in October 1969 made remarks that are as relevant today as they were then.
When she showed up that day in Fargo, Rev. Dr. Lillian D. Anthony had just become the first faculty member of the Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, after a successful run as the first Civil Rights Director for the City of Minneapolis.
She fought to end discrimination and racism wherever possible through education and outreach, including small cities around the Midwest. The cause of civil rights in America had, just a year earlier, absorbed a devastating blow with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But the cause continued on through activists like Dr. Anthony.
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder columnist Ron Edwards once wrote “a person of conscience, Dr. Anthony understood the principles of compassion and fairness. She knew the importance of not forgetting our history.”
In that same column, Anthony's good friend and fellow activist and educator Josie Johnson said, “She was a tough sister. She didn’t take [any] stuff. She didn’t let you get away with things. She was pretty special.”
That is certainly the Anthony that showed up on a “Party Line” segment that day in the fall of 1969. In what looks like a pre-recorded interview for the show, Anthony doesn’t mince words when she has this exchange with the white man interviewing her.
Reporter: What do you think is the cause of poverty in this country?
Anthony: I said it. I said, institutional white racism.
Reporter: Well, what can we do about it?
Anthony: You know, I get a little tired of white America with all of its intelligence and all of its technology asking that stupid question. You know very well what you can do about it.
Watch the full interview courtesy State Historical Society of North Dakota:
Anthony goes on to explain that white people need to make a commitment not to tolerate any more human suffering, while the black man has to make a commitment to himself.
“He’s got to be true to himself, which means that he's got to get his (the white man's) foot off his neck. And none of that vision of turning the cheek anymore, because that is a dehumanizing process,” Anthony said.
We don’t know exactly how the hosts of “Party Line” reacted to this blunt assessment of racial inequality on their usually light-hearted show. Based upon other interviews we've uncovered from the time period, Anthony's words were stronger and likely something viewers of the afternoon chat show didn't hear often. But those pointed comments — advice on what to do to put an end to institutional racism — certainly gave the hosts and viewers a preview of a dialogue that would continue over the next 50 plus years. Anthony's words would have fit right in with the news stories we devoured in the summer of 2020 when Black Lives Matters marches and rallies were held all over the nation.
Rev. Dr. Anthony eventually left Minnesota and worked at other colleges around the country, carrying on her fight for equality, justice and opportunity for all people — a fight she never fully realized before her death on July 26, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I think, like all of us, she too felt sad that many of the objectives, missions, and goals of our struggles were not fully met,” said Johnson to the Minnesota Spokesman Review. “As recently as a year ago(2013), Lillian and I were able to share our sadness about the treatment of our first Black president.”
Johnson went on to say the best way to honor Anthony is to remember the work she and other civil rights leaders did in the 1960’s, including appearances on little talk shows in small, overwhelmingly white cities like Fargo. Her words might have been a little ahead of their time for North Dakota in 1969, but for those still fighting for justice today, the hope is they are words and ideas whose time has finally come.
More stories by Tracy Briggs: