As a child of Anoka, a graduate of Hamline, a resident of St. Paul, a teacher, and as someone who believes strongly in racial justice, I have developed a deep affinity for Anna Arnold Hedgeman as we share these same life parallels. However, her life and work were completely unknown to me growing up. It wasn’t until 2018, when I stumbled upon a History Day project about her during the state competition at the U of M, that I became aware of her. The excitement I felt at learning this new and incredible information soon gave way to another emotion. I was overwhelmed with anger at the racism that buried her achievements and deprived generations of school kids like me a chance to be exposed to the black experience in my overwhelmingly white town. How different would our perspectives on race and gender have been if Anoka had celebrated and commemorated the life of this black woman?
A museum exhibit? A statue downtown? What if her story was a part of the school curriculum?
What if we Anoka kids were raised to have the same pride in Anna Arnold Hedgeman that Hibbing kids have for Dylan? What if we claimed her like St. Paul claims F. Scott Fitzgerald? As anyone from Minneapolis will tell you, mentioning the name ‘Prince’ is mandatory to any query about their hometown.
What if the next generation of Anokans were quick to answer a hometown question like this: “I’m from Anoka. You know, the home of civil rights giant Anna Arnold Hedgeman. Halloween? Oh, we think that’s pretty cool, too.”