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Students at St. Kate’s are engaging with the WTDN in a variety of classes. Here’s how our students are thinking about the issues related to housing inequality and housing segregation. Their work demonstrates “thinking in progress”.
Frederick D. McCracken: St. Paul Realtor and Activist
Sophie Gibson | Spring 2023
“It is true a large majority of Negroes reside in the Rondo Street section, so called, we have constructed our churches and other buildings housing our community activities in this section, but our movement to this locality has been a volunteer one, and we would strongly and bitterly resent any attempt that may restrict us to this particular locality.”
As said by St. Paul realtor, Frederick Douglass McCracken in 1925, one’s residence in a given area should be by choice; no factors should hinder anyone from moving to or from a locality. Beyond this snippet from a single newspaper article, McCracken’s dedication to advocacy work for Black Americans in the Twin Cities, much of it surrounding home ownership, lasted for nearly half of his life.
Born in 1879 to Perthena and Samuel Henry McCracken in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Mr. McCracken found his way to the Twin Cities during the first half of 1900, at the age of 21. Soon after relocating, McCracken found work in the realm of politics, working as a stenographer for Minnesota congressman Fred Stevens, which took him to Washington DC. For the next decade and a half, Mr. McCracken continued to serve in various clerical positions for the congressman, ceasing only after Steven’s failed reelection in 1914. During his time with Congressman Stevens, McCracken was described as his “very efficient and popular secretary.”
Beyond his careers and advocacy work, McCracken also spent time growing and supporting his family; in 1911 he married Nora Godette, and in the following year became the father of a little girl. Though their prior residences aren’t recorded, by 1923, the McCracken family resided in the home at 852 Albemarle Street, in the North End area of St Paul, which still stands today.
Following his initial work in Washington DC with Stevens, Mr. McCracken then began working for the federal government as a special agent for the United States Housing Corporation, leading work on housing for war workers of color. This agency, also known as USHC, operated during World War I, and focused on creating housing for the thousands of war workers sent to work near various arsenals and shipyards. One of the agency’s main focuses was to create “quality neighborhoods” that would last beyond the war, rather than dwellings only needed for a couple of years.
Though Mr. McCracken’s work on advancing general conditions for people of color, specifically Black Americans, began prior to his time in the federal government; it appears that his involvement in, and focus on the housing aspect of racial justice may have begun at this time. Prior to World War I, mentions of McCracken’s work pertained to broader issues, and did not center specifically on housing issues.
Though exact dates aren’t documented, Mr. McCracken later began much of the work he was known for following World War I, operating as a real estate and insurance agent, and selling homes to Black families in St. Paul sometime prior to 1915. As written about in a 1919 article of “The Appeal,” McCracken’s “knowledge of real estate conditions in St. Paul, together with the valuable experience” from his time with the federal government’s housing agency made him “a valuable asset to [the Black community].” Majority of the homes that McCracken sold were in the Rondo area, and were later destroyed following the construction of Interstate 94 during the 1950s and 1960s. Though his title was as a real estate agent, Mr. McCracken served the Black community in ways beyond. McCracken responded to the housing situation for Black families, continually speaking out against the barriers which hindered Black homeownership.
Throughout his time in the Twin Cities, and during the focal points of his career, Mr. McCracken still found time for causes important to him, and worked for them, beyond his day to day jobs. McCracken was appointed on various committees and boards, ranging from chairman to the Urban League’s housing department to the vice president of the St. Paul Negro Business League. Alongside these appointments, McCracken also spoke at a variety of events, on topics that largely concerned racial progress.
Though he did spend much of his life in the Twin Cities, Mr. McCracken, along with his wife, had moved to New York City by 1933, where he worked as the superintendent of an apartment complex in the Harlem area. While he was drawn away from Minnesota, he later returned to St. Paul in 1942, where he resided until his passing due to sickness in 1944. Even though his life took him from the midwest to the East coast a handful of times, Mr. McCracken returned to, and was laid to eternal rest in the city he made his home, and worked tirelessly to improve; St. Paul.
Though time goes on and memories fade, the stories of those before us, though sometimes hidden, often remain in archives and in other records. For many though, it takes digging and time to unearth stories, even for those who did important work during their lifetime. Frederick McCracken is just one example of an exceptional advocate, and person, who remains tucked away, despite his decades of work and service for the Black community in St. Paul, and beyond.
Frederick D. McCracken, “Discusses Housing Before Realty Board,” The Northwestern Bulletin-Appeal, January 31st, 1925. https://newspapers.mnhs.org/jsp/PsImageViewer.jsp?doc_id=5f51e811-5a89-4328-aadf-15ca41b3e0ca%2Fmnhi0031%2F1HMBGK5C%2F25013101 (accessed June 20th, 2022).
Fred McCracken, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society