Projects will highlight history, heritage of early Black settlers in Hastings

By John McLoone
Posted 6/7/24

The Dakota County Historical Society is working on two big projects to honor the history of Hastings’ early Black families. Last month, the DCHS hosted a gathering of descendants of those …

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Projects will highlight history, heritage of early Black settlers in Hastings


The Dakota County Historical Society is working on two big projects to honor the history of Hastings’ early Black families.
Last month, the DCHS hosted a gathering of descendants of those families to gather, share stories and hear about the two projects: the Daniels Project and the Black Heritage Trail.
The Daniels Project will be located in the Carriage Barn at the Historic LeDuc Estate in Hastings, tracing the prominent Black family and the impact they made on the community. The Black Heritage Trail will be an interactive trail with historic points of interest.
Because of the success of the gathering of Black descendants, the DCHS hosted a virtual meeting to share more with the community about the projects late last month.
The presentation was given by DCHS Executive Director Matt Carter, James Curry chair of Building Remembrance for Reconciliation, and Steve Boyd-Smith of Amplifier Experience Design which is designing both projects.
Both projects are in the planning stages and grant money is being secured to pay for them.
“A little bit to explain about these two projects and how they are separate, yet they intertwine in the history that’s being discussed between both of the Daniels and the Black Heritage Trail project,” said Carter. “Our Daniels project is nearing the end of the design phase, and we will continue to move forward with the next couple phases over the next couple of years with the fabrication and installation of these exhibits.”
“We’re in the current first phase of creating a concept plan for what a Black Heritage Trail could look like,” continued Carter. “As we move into the next couple of phases throughout this project, we’ll be moving from the concept plan and start to make that into a reality throughout the city of Hastings.”
Curry said Black people were prominent to helping build Hastings.
“Even before there was a Hastings, there were Black entrepreneurs, leaders and families living, building and contributing here,” he said. “If that statement of fact is surprising, it shows the value of this trail. Hastings began as a relatively integrated town. The people who were given the land and who platted the town were white, but among the people who actually built the town were African Americans who started businesses, who soon bought property in downtown and beyond, and even who may have secretly been active in the Underground Railroad.
“Within a decade, even more African Americans came to Hastings including formerly enslaved people who freed themselves during the Civil War. They joined the town band, they built Browns Chapel AME Church and went to the local schools at the beginning of the 20th century. The next generation included Hastings High School’s valedictorian, my great-great aunt, and a particularly high rate of enlisted men in World War I, including my grandpa and great uncles.”
Within decades however, there were few Black people remaining in Hastings.
“Most had moved to Black communities in the Twin Cities,” said Curry. “They had certainly faced and overcame consistent slights and even outright abuse. The daily incidents were too small to appear in records but some of the bigger ones do show up.”
The biggest of which was the arson fire of Brown’s Chapel in 1907.
“In 1907, an arsonist spread kerosene on the pews and set fire to the Black church. The KKK rose throughout the Midwest and marched in Hastings and elsewhere in Dakota County,” said Curry. “The younger Black generation also seem to have moved, like lots of young graduates continue to do to create more opportunities.”
By the 1950s, it was reported in the census that there were no Black residents left in Hastings, underscoring the importance of the two CCHS projects.
“The Hastings Black Heritage Trail’s underlying purpose is to make Hastings more welcome to everyone. It wants current residents to know about and celebrate these Black roots. It wants to encourage people from away to visit, including descendants who have discovered the ties to this place.”
Another goal is to make Black people feel welcome in Hastings.
“In a sense, it wants more people to feel comfortable moving here,” said Curry.
Boyd-Smith showed images of Black cultural trails in other parts of the country.
“We’ll do those things (referring to Curry’s explanation of the trail), by, among other things, creating opportunities for locals to happen upon history. As they walk their dogs, drop their kids off, enjoy a concert at the Riverfront,” he said.
Many of the trail information boards will likely be located on private property so there will also be simple markers on public properties, such as sidewalks.
The message boards will offer stories and information and link to websites where visitors can do a “deeper dive,” said Boyd-Smith.
He said the Daniels exhibit “dovetails well into the trail and expands on the exhibit already there and winds its way throughout the barn. The exhibit begins with George Daniels’ life in bondage in Georgia and up until he freed himself during the Civil War and found his way to William LeDuc and Hastings.”
“There’s a parallel section about his wife Chloe, who lived in Prescott when they met that expands further to their lives together, building a family, moving to Medford and eventually homesteading in South Dakota,” said Boyd-Smith.
Carter said Hastings has embraced the projects.
“From my perspective, it appears that there’s a lot of excitement for (the Daniels) projects. Similarly, with the Black Heritage Trail, that’s another idea that we’ve brought up and discussed. Again, it seems like there’s a lot of excitement within the city.”
One resident did bring up on social media that they were not aware of the impact that the African American community had in Hastings.
“That kind of gave us the justification of this, why these types of projects are needed,” said Carter. “The people we have talked to have seemed excited about this. We still know we do have a lot of work to do to get this out to the general community and make them aware of it at the same time.”