St. Paul attorney William T. Francis is appointed U.S. Minister to Liberia. His success is the product of an active black professional community in the Twin Cities.
Francis had at one time been the chief clerk of the Northern Pacific Railway and had served as a presidential elector in 1920.*
Mr. Francis first found work in the Twin Cities with the Northern Pacific Railroad, working his way up to clerk. By 1904, he had graduated from St. Paul College of Law, and became the chief clerk of the law office of Northern Pacific. This high position made him a powerful leader and advocate for black Minnesotans.**
As was common in this era, he voted and actively participated in Republican politics. (African-Americans, on average, supported Republicans from the time of Emancipation until FDR, shunning the Democratic party for its support of slavery and slave states in the Civil War.) After two failed attempts in local races, his stalwart support garnered him the status of being a most powerful African-American Republican west of the Mississippi as well as serving as a presidential elector by 1920.**
His quiet authority eventually paid off when in 1927 President Coolidge appointed him the U.S. Minister and Consul to Liberia. American tire companies, like Firestone, had made large investments in the rubber industry there critical to a country in love with the automobile. Francis, always alert for breeches of justice, made a key report that uncovered corruption of major Liberian officials taking bribes for supplying men for forced labor. Soon after submitting his report he succumbed to yellow fever, and died in Monrovia, Liberia on July 15, 1929.**
His death rocked the African-American community of Minnesota, and as a lifelong member of Pilgrim Baptist Church he was given the following eulogy by the mayor of Saint Paul.
“Whereas: The City Council has been officially notified of the death of Wm. T. Francis, U.S. Minister to Liberia…
Mr. Francis was a St. Paul product, a citizen of fine spirit, clean purpose and genuine devotion to the public good, held in high esteem of those who knew him. He fashioned his own career out of courage, determination and ability. Facing unusual handicaps he overcame them all by the quality of his character, and by single-handed struggle forced recognition of his worth. He won high honor on worth alone and earned a wide approval because he was sincere, kindly, human and gracious.
At the time of his death he was on the threshold of a distinguished career, and assured of a commanding destiny among men. His government associates were open in their praise of his achievements. Here in his home city he was respected for what he was-a true brave man, gifted with vision, cheerful and uncomplaining, and devoted to high aims. His untimely death is a tragic loss to his country and especially to his home community. He leaves behind him the memory of one who was unafraid of life, the example of one who was victorious against all untoward circumstances.”***
“…and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” I Thessalonians 4:11,12 NIV****
In Your mercy, hear our prayer. We thank You for the stellar example of W.T. Francis. We thank You for gifting him with the tenacity, perseverance, and humility to stay at his task and quietly do so much good for so many. We thank You that his years of trials, like Joseph, prepared him to be the first African-American to be an American ambassador. We thank You that his process of overcoming led to greater freedom for tens of thousands of Africans!
Will You bless those who follow his patient path to greatness? Will You bless his progeny, both literal and figurative, to be blessings to their family,neighborhood, and city? Will You bless African-American leaders to be imitators of his invaluable contributions to the company, state, and nation he serves?
We ask that You forgive the judgments and jealousies that fell on him from Minnesotans, and by those in his own community. We ask forgiveness of the offense of judging You by judging the success of African-American leaders. We ask forgiveness of You by judging the success of all leaders.
Will You forgive us of judgments based on partisanship, of our own mothers and fathers, across political party lines? In this case, will You forgive our judgments against Republican leadership? We have largely forgotten as a society that slave states were led by Democrats, and that the leadership of President Lincoln and Republican principles of liberty defeated the slavery of African human beings in the United States. W.T. Francis did not forget, but used his liberty to procure liberty of Liberians being enslaved and betrayed by their own countrymen. Will You raise a generation of African-Americans in Minnesota that similarly burn with justice for Africa?
We thank You that his inner peace begat external peace. May we receive Your peace in Minnesota, and let it radiate outward. May we work for Your applause just like William T. Francis.
* P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
*****Read deeper on this good man’s life. https://publishing.rchs.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/RCHS_Winter2017_Nelson.pdf